Saturday, December 26, 2009

99 Days and Counting

A friend of mine recently contacted me for some assistance. She was recently promoted to the top of her company and would be assuming the role of President and CEO in a couple of weeks. "Did I have any advice?"

"You Bet! - you will need to build that 99 Day Plan reflecting your first quarter on the job. This is one of the most valuable things that you can do to maximize the start of your new role." 99 Day Plans are based on the theory that in the first ninety days of a new assignment, an individual will be consuming more value from the organization then they are able to contribute. My two favourite books on the topic "The First 90 Days" (Watkins) and "You're In Charge Now What" (Neff & Citrin). Some of the key principals are the following.

Turnarounds, Start-ups and New Promotions all pose a unique opportunity for Leaders to come "out of the gate" in full stride. Although all three situations require different skills and approaches, the underlying theme is still the same - There are four fundamental phases of building and executing the 99 day plan - In support of my Energy and Smart Grid clients I have affectionately named them Inspection, Pre-Wiring, Lights On and Charging Forward.

In the Inspection phase you are in an early Due Diligence state. You may be contemplating a new start-up venture, have your name in for a promotion or trying to figure out how to accelerate or turn around an existing business. Your objectives in this phase are to spend a couple of days utilizing the information that you have at hand to determine your interest level in jumping into the assignment. You will utilize "generally available" materials (websites, public information, local knowledge) to help formulate your interest and determine your ability to be able to deliver the results. You may or may not have access to the key Stakeholders (Shareholders, Employees, Senior Management) at this point in the process. This phase may consume up to 5 days in a 99 Day Plan.

In Pre-Wiring, you have now determined that more detailed visibility is required on the opportunity. Objectives in this phase include determining the critical priorities, risks and opportunities and a complete alignment of all stakeholder interests. For an individual being recruited for a job, your visibility will come through the interview process and access to the key stakeholders in the process. It is during this phase that you will formulate your ideas on what needs to get done, negotiate your start day and draft a 90 day plan with specific deliverables every 30 days. Specific emphasis should be put on identifying the "Low Hanging Fruit" - things that your individual skills and talents can add early value to an organization including changes to process, people and customer interaction. I also endorse drafting a Multi-point Objective Statement that addresses the phrase: "By the end of 90 days I would expect that......"

The Lights On phase will start the first day of your new assignment. You will need to ensure that you have specific action plans for what you plan on saying and doing with the Senior Leadership team, the Employees at large, Customers, Shareholders and other Stakeholders. I suggest maintaining a journal of all key interactions, observations and things that were "positively or negatively surprising". At the end of each week you are "tuning" your plan to reflect the things that you have discovered. Early feedback mechanisms for Stakeholder communication should also be critical components of your 99 Day Plan.

Charging Forward reflects the key execution phase of the plan. Utilizing your journal, reflect on your daily and weekly notes. Ensure that you are executing around key interactions with employees, customers, shareholder and key influencers. Be prepared to dynamically modify your plan to reflect any surprises that you have uncovered along the way. I also endorse the concept of creating a rolling 90 plan that reflects the execution road map and supports the last phase of the plan which I call Burning Efficiently Bright.

For my newly minted CEO I also added a couple other items of wisdom to help support her process. These include:
  1. Mental State of Mind: From Pre-Wiring to Lights On you will need to mentally prepare for the new assignment - You are the new boss and the individual charged to fix the past sins - get on with it.
  2. The Cows Have left the Barn: From the Lights On phase, you are In Charge. The key stakeholders will be looking to you for answers, opinion and direction- anticipate the questions.
  3. Plans are "Merely" Forecasts: Change is the only guaranteed constant. Build the Plan, Execute the Plan -but be prepared to modify the Plan as necessary.
  4. Listen Lots / Communicate Often: In your early days on the job you will be given access to individuals and situations that may not have been available in your Inspection and Pre-Wiring states. Listen, Question and Probe.
  5. Emotional Fortitude: Regardless of your prospective (Start-up, Turn-Around, New Position), your plan will involve a series of changes to People and Process. Do the necessary homework and remember why you took the job in the first place. Dig Deep and do the right things in a timely manner.

At what stage are you in your new assignment cycle. Time to start the clock -TIC TOC - 99 Days will fly by quickly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Perfecting the Pitch

It must that time of the season! Over the past 2 weeks I have seen over thirty (30!) Investor Pitches - some over the plate and some clearly off in fowl territory. With Angel, Venture and Government programs gearing up for the end of the year and "In the spirit of giving" let's to summarize some of the keys in "Throwing the Strike".

The Deck - As cruel as it may sound, the initial investor pitch is scheduled for 8 to 10 minutes. Many CEO's find this tough to condense the years they have worked on their venture into something so concise. A crisp 10 charts will provide the Entrepreneur with a flexible template to work within the tight time frame. If the potential Investors really love the story, there will be lots of time for more PowerPoint charts and models. The Charts themselves should be Clean (uncluttered, "less is more"), Consistent (Logo, Font, Colours) and Visual (Pictures, Graphs, embedded Video).

The Story - Your pitch deck should tell a Concise story that takes the audience through a journey. The journey needs a Start (opening), the Middle (problem, solution, value proposition, financial model) and a Conclusion (Financial need, why invest in you, expected returns).

Strong Opening - It's proven that first impressions are lasting ones. With only 10 minutes on the podium it will be difficult to change perceptions if the first 30 seconds are cluttered, rambling or unfocused. Practice, but do not memorize your opening remarks - think about an interesting way to hook your audience such that they are "hungry" for the next chart in the deck.

Educate Me with Simplicity - Many investors that you are pitching to have limited knowledge of your Industry and Target markets. Provide us with a simplified version of your marketplace and value chains so that we can easily conceive how your products and services fit in.

Demo's - If you have a Demo as part of the pitch ensure that it has been "Canned" or "Burned" to a file that makes it Foolproof. Do not rely on the being able to connect to the net to access your demo. Be aware that presentation graphics built on Apple are not completely compatible when shown on a PC.

CEO Delivery - The CEO needs to be poised and articulate in the delivery of the key messages. Maintain excellent eye contact with your audience ensuring that your focus is scanning all aspects of the room. You are watching for body language and key hints that the messages are being appropriately received and translated. No "READING" of charts, No "BABBLING ON" in responding to questions and make No "EXCUSES" for the technology not working or the charts being too hard to read.

Strong Finish - Many CEO's forget to go for the CLOSE. "Tell Me what you plan on Telling Me (Opening), Tell Me (Middle) and then Tell Me what you Told Me (Close)." You need to ask for the order and have a convenient way of being contacted to negotiate your next steps.

'Tis the Season - Let's hope that these sound bites can improve your probability of throwing a strike into the the Batters Box.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nose In / Fingers Out (NIFO) Governance

Governance is the system by which organizations are controlled and managed. Paramount to this system is the relationship of the Board of Directors to its CEO - specifically "How Active is the Board in the operation of the company?"

At one end of the scale (The "A" End), we have the Passive Board often referred to as the rubber "Stampers" - In this model, we usually have a very dominate and knowledgeable CEO who is setting and driving the strategic agenda of the corporation. Board members are friendly to the process and few tough questions or contrary opinions ever get tabled. With Management setting and controlling, Board etiquette is often in a constant state of "scramble". These Boards are typical of early stage organizations where the CEO is a knowledgeable, strong willed and passionate. Board members are usually hand-picked from a group of friends or acquaintances.

At the other end of the scale (The "Z" End), we have a very Active, all Controlling Board who often spend a lot of their time managing the "Minutiae". Here the Board is usually large, comprised of a number of sub-committees and has a detailed process of checks and controls. The Board in this case, digs deeper into day to day management issues influencing Marketing, Sales, IT and HR procedures. Boards appointments are less likely to be influenced by the CEO and their friends. Sometimes we often see an executive committee of the board which essentially amounts to a "Board within a Board". Boards at the "Z" end tend to be Public, Not for Profit or Co-Op. Sometimes in crises mode, the Board does have transform itself into the Minutiae. This often happens when the CEO is not performing or has asked for help in managing the complexity.

Boards operate between the "A" and "Z" ends of the spectrum. The factors affecting the operating model include: Historical roots, Stage of Development, Competence of CEO, Experience of individual Board members and Stakeholder influence to name a few. Board operating models are also known to evolve over time as factors in the internal and external environment change.

A more sustainable approach will be one of Moderate ("M") Board participation and consistent with the notion of "Nose In and Fingers out" (NIFO). A NIFO board is more in tune with the fact that the Board exists to "enhance the decision making capability of Management". Best Practices in Governance suggest that Boards at both ends of the spectrum need to migrate towards the NIFO middle. Boards in NIFO mode operate with fewer committees, less meetings and prioritize their efforts on results, strategy, risk and policy. "Day to Day" details are left for Management to execute.

A good exercise would be to profile your existing board on the "A" to "Z" scale. A good place to start would be to pull the Board Charter documentation and re-read the language. A open dialogue on the topic at your next strategic retreat would also be helpful in analysing your Board's Effectiveness in its current Governance model. Is your Board's model consistent with the stage of growth, source of capital and skill sets of your members and its CEO? Is your Governance model consistent with "acting in the best interests of the Stakeholders"?

Can you see the Power in operating in a manner more consistent with Nose In Fingers Out?

Mentors - Filling in the Experience Gaps

Fresh out of school I started my career at one of the icons of Canadian business - Bell Canada. Included in the icon group were other national brands such as IBM, Xerox, Petro Canada and Imperial Oil. At the time the world was still thinking about starting and finishing your working life with the same company. These organizations were legendary for Leadership Training, Skills Development and Coaching programs that included "a new job every 6 months".

On my first day on the job, I was given a team of 12 individuals who I had to coach, motivate and manage. To support my efforts, I was sent to leadership training courses every 6 months to fill in the gaps. In hindsight, I now realize how fortunate I was to be part of a New Graduate Training program - my education and practical on the job training has been part of my fabric ever since.

In today's world a lot has changed. Clearly, the concept of "employment for life" has a new time horizon and companies are spending less on their graduate programs. Company training and education services have also been severely cut back. Gone are the days where companies would hire you for your ability to learn and proceed to train you to fill in the gaps. Recruitment today is looking for the individuals who can do the job with their existing tool sets and hit the ground running.

Working with our new breed of Entrepreneurs has a different twist. A full 50% of entrepreneurs fall between the ages of 19 and 30. How and where do these individuals get their training and skills development in today's environment?

In a recent study conducted by OI Partners ( a number of key items were identified that were consistently lead to the failure of newly minted leaders. Five of these factors include:

  1. Leadership & Delegation - the ability to get results through others.

  2. Motivation - the ability to rally the troops to higher levels.

  3. Communication - the ability to provide clear and concise messages.

  4. Personal Skills - the ability to relate on an interpersonal level.

  5. Recognition - the wiliness to celebrate the successes no matter how small.
When you scan this list you conclude these factors can be "theoretically" studied, but the realty is that they have to be "experienced". So where do Entrepreneurs get the experience to fill the gap?

In a previous blog,we chatted about the importance of Advisory Boards and their impact on improving company success. These boards are helpful to gain traction in the marketplace - but today's young Entrepreneurs will need more. To supplement the experience & training gaps, a strong prescription of Mentorship from a seasoned "been there done it" Coach is clearly warranted.

Coaches will come in many forms and range from a "certified" professional, to a relative or simply a trusted friend. Often coaches are joined together in business forums, where the Entrepreneur can open up amongst a group of peers in a "risk free" environment. Regardless of the background or format, the coach will need to add value by identifying and filling critical experience gaps. Rounding out the theoretical with practical experience, will clearly enhance the probability of commercial success.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Making a Big Dent - Boomer Entrepreneurs

A Friend of mine recently approached me at a social with a huge smile on his face - it was the happiest that I had seen him in months. He was so excited it was hard for him to blurt out the words: "I am free - I resigned my big corporate job last week and plan on starting my own gig - I am charged up and can hardly wait to shift gears and get my venture out of the gates."

Being the "Entrepreneur's Entrepreneur" that I am, I got caught up in the passion of the moment. "Congratulations my friend you are now joining the unique and growing club of "Boomerpreneurs" - there will be no looking back from this point on."

As best as I can tell, the phrase "Boomerpreneur" was coined a couple years back and written about extensively in the National Post (Chevreau), Business Week, Wall Street Journal and USA Today to name a few. I even found a dedicated Blog on the subject.

A Boomerpreneur is a individual born between 1947 and 1966 who has started their own business. In Canada, this age group represents about a third of the total population and is estimated to control about 65% of the wealth in the country. A study done by Delta Economics (Dec 2008) suggested that over 30% of the Entreprenuers in the US were over 50 years of age. A formidable force indeed!

I have a significant portion of my clients who would be classified as Boomerpreneurs. I am always interested in how they got to formulating their business ventures. Here are a couple of quotes:
  • "I needed to get off the Trend Mill and have some Fun. I been functionally trained by my corporation in all aspects of business - its time to put those skills together for me."

  • " The Recession has kicked the stuffing out of my retirement nest egg. I need to go back to work to supplement by retirement annuity."

  • "I met a couple of young guys with some ground breaking technology. They need some leadership and grey hair on their team to make this a reality. Joining up with them is forcing me to dig deep and remember some those skills that have not been exercised in a while."

  • "My daughter recently started her own business. I was looking for something to keep me occupied. What better way to rejuvenate my working career - with your family."

  • "I have always dreamed about owning my own business. I was lucky in that I could turn one of my hobbies into cash flow - I am having the time of my life."

  • "Take, Take, Take - it's time for me to Give Something Back."

Thinking of becoming a Boomerpreneur? - Here are a couple of things to think about:

1) Personal Inventory- Not everyone will be cut out to be a Boomerpreneur. Create a series of lists - What you like to do? What you hate doing? What are your core skills? What are you lacking? What puts a smile on your face? What would you like to do before your number is up? These lists will give you an honest assessment of who you are and what you could be passionate about.

2) "The Thing" - For some "The Thing" is something that they have always wanted to do perhaps a hobby that could develop into a business. For others it may be joining forces with another Entrepreneur who already have the idea and needs a partner.

3) Networking - Help for your idea will come from many sources including family & friends and other early stage Entrepreneurs trying to get there business off the ground. Input from all sources will enhance the shaping of your thinking.

4)Build a Plan - You can't just jump into this without a "plan of action". This plan may start out on the infamous "cocktail napkin", progress to a "two pager", a powerpoint and then finally a 25 page business plan. Regardless of its form, you will need research, assumptions, validations, financial models, Go to Market implementation plans as well as risks and contingencies.

5) Brand - I am a big believer in creating your Brand (vision, mission, logo, website) and getting your messages out there. You will probably need some professional help in this regard.

6) Understand the Implications - Becoming your own boss has a significant set of implications on your time, quality of life, family, cash flow and personal being. Create a list of implications and associated stakeholders. Be sure to constantly review your progress and its associated impact. Be prepared to "course correct" a number of times.

7) Assess and Celebrate - Constantly review your progress to your "plan of record". Celebrate the wins regardless of the size and revisit the reasons that things did not go according to "Hoyle".

For those who have made the leap, I can truly say that they are in a better place then they were before. I plan on writing a lot more about this phenomena as my friends and clients gain traction as Canadian Boomerprenurs.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Management & Its Ability to Execute

We have seen some exciting new technologies in the past couple of months and our work to "accelerate the path to commercial success" has been intensifying. Of particular interest are some of my clients with Waste to Energy, Solar, Water Treatment and Smart Grid technologies. Those organizations will be the backbone of the Ontario economy in the not to distant future.

As we work work with these early stage organizations, a set of patterns are starting to emerge that are worthy of emphasis. Clearly, these technology companies are focusing in Exciting and Growing sectors. They are based in Science and are well on their way to securing Intellectual Property (IP) protection for their inventions. Businesss models although initially "a little crude", are being re-worked to demonstrate the ability to successfully "turn a profit". Any investor who takes a "quick look" is quickly impressed on all three fronts.

So why aren't we reading more about the successful financing of these companies by Angels, VC's, Government Grants and larger Institutions?

A quick canvas of any investor group will tell you that Management and its Ability to Execute often eclipses the process for securing early stage funding. Due Diligence teams will ask the Leadership team questions such as:
  • How many years of experience does the team bring to the table?
  • Have you successfully built other organizations to a successful exit?
  • Does the CEO have the depth and breadth to move the organization to its next level?
  • Are all key functional disciplines appropriately represented by the organization?
  • Does the management actually act and respond as an effective team?
  • Is the team able to articulate an action plan and deliver those promised results?
  • What kind of dashboards are used to track weekly, monthly and quarterly success?

These are extracts of a long list of diligence questions that any investor will need to be comfortable with before opening the cheque book. How about the one that Kevin O'Leary made famous on Dragon's Den: “What if you get hit by a bus and you're road pizza?”

The key for these emerging technology companies will be to do a detailed assessment of their team and its story around executing strategy. The assessment will not doubt uncover several holes in the team that will need to be proactively addressed to mitigate investor risk. These may include:

  1. Identifying key hires that will be added once funding is secured,
  2. Assembling that Advisory Board and ensuring that they are engaged,
  3. Hiring part-time Mentors to work with lessor experienced executives,
  4. Encouraging the completion supplementary training programs,
  5. Joining key sector networking forums and in some cases,
  6. Identifying that the existing CEO may need to step aside in favour of a "been there, done it before" leader.

The good news for Entrepreneurs is that if their technology really is a "Game Changer", the "Path to Profitability" is reasonable and the tactics to augment the "Execution Strategy" are sound, many seasoned investors will take a "serious second look" at the company with great result.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Increasing the Odds of Success

A fellow blogger recently pointed me to a study done by a couple of Harvard business professors (Gompers and Lerner) titled “Performance Persistence in Entrepreneurship”. This study looked at the track record of first and second time Entrepreneurs creating a successful enterprise. (Success was defined as taking the start-up entity public.) The results of the study were chilling to say the least.

They found that first time Entrepreneurs only had a 22% chance of success and for the 78% who tried it again the Entrepreneur was only 23 % successful in their next venture. They also noted that to a certain degree “success breeds success” - the successful ones who tried a second venture were 34% likely to succeed.

This Harvard research and a companion study done by CIBC World Markets in 2005 suggested that successful ventures had a number of consistent characteristics that made them over achieve. These traits included: a) High Level of Education (2 of 3 Canadian Entrepreneurs have post secondary education), b) Extensive Use of Advisers (Service Professionals, Board Advisers, Board of Directors), c) Outsourcing Strategies (Companies focused on core competencies and outsourced other non-core functions), d) Technology Enablement (Companies utilized Web presence, CRM software to enhance and support customer interactions) and e) Focus on US and International Markets (Canada is only the starting point).

This is where the Ontario Commercialization Network (OCN) comes into play. Eight of the 13 centres have been funded with an Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR). These individuals are seasoned executives who have build, sold and turned around a number of ventures in their careers. The role is to “accelerate the path to commercialization” for these early stage companies.

EIR’s in the OCN all have a unique and individual style in advising their clients on "creating the organization's traction". Supported by Provincial, Federal and Private funds, EIR's across the province rely on a core set of resources to support their clients. These include 1) Education and Reference material, 2) Extensive network of contacts and practical experience, 3) Market Research, 4) Executive Coaching and Mentoring, 6) Assistance in building a Compelling & Focused story.

Entrepreneurs are the key to Ontario’s innovation agenda and are encouraged to sign up with the Commercialization centre in their region. We need to do all we can to increase their odds of "Stunning Success".

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

M&M's - Paramount for Success

M&M's are critical to a company's success and I don't mean the plain or peanut kind! Measurement & Management Dashboards are important tools for building sustainable success.

A couple of months agoTerry Matthews - a great Canadian icon was speaking at a MaRS event about his success model for start-up organizations. Having started over 80 successful organizations in the past 25 years, he has a record of credibility. Terry explained that one of the keys was to have each of his organizations' create a monthly report that measured a number of indicators in the Rear View mirror (We Accomplished this, We achieved that, We we unsuccessful with this.) and out of the Front Windshield (We plan on completing this, We are Scheduled to achieve that). These monthly Dashboard reports were prepared by the CEO as if the company were publicly traded on the TSX - a great standard of Governance.

For my clients at the RIC-Centre I am also encouraging the drafting of these telltale M&M Dashboards that cover the important facets of their start-up. The CFO and CEO need to ingrain that culture of measuring and taking management action in their early evolution as an organization. Measurements should cover the basics of financial reporting but also drill down a number of layers on key indicators such as Customer Acquisition, Product Development, Human Resourcing, Regulatory Approval, Channel Development etc. The clarity of the historic indicators and forward looking statements will do wonders for the focus and accomplishment of these early stage organizations.

Many of my Followers are also curious to hear about how the High Handicapper is making out. After a couple more lessons, hours on the practice tee, a loud shirt and 15 rounds later - there is considerable improvement. "Jimmy the Genius" continues to work his magic - the hard work however is clearly in my hands. Following my own entrepreneurial advice I have implemented my own M&M Dashboard process for my journey to a lower handicap.

On the top part of the card I write down the three things that Jimmy has me working on (grip, alignment, aim) for the current week. I also articulate what I hope to Accomplish - 2 less lost balls, gross stroke reduction of 6, 5 less putts for example. This sets the tone and provides a constant reminder of what I am trying to accomplish each time I make an entry onto the card.

In the middle section I create a series of drill down measurements that allow me to manage each part of my trek down the course. Off the tee I note if my ball went where I had intended it to go with a simple check mark. If if doesn't go where it should have, I add additional indicators - did it go Left (L), Right (R)or Duff (D)? For Left and Right I also note if it went Long (LO) or Short (S). For Lost balls I count the number and location -Woods (Wo), Water (Wa) or those nagging ones lost on the Fairway (F). (I decided not to measure Deep Woods or the number of Skips across the pond!) For Putts, I count the Total including the number less than 3 feet and greater than 20 feet. At the end of each hole in addition to my Gross Score I have some interesting statistics to help me M&M at the next tee.

By the way, don't ask me to keep your score as well as mine - There is no room on the card and my M&M Dashboard is all consuming to my focus and Paramount to my Success.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Somtimes you have to go Back to the Drawing Board

One of the greatest things about Entrepreneurs is that they have the persistence to keep trying. We all need to draw inspiration from their spirit.

Having exhausted a host of innovative and creative methodologies to achieve Large Success or Smaller Successes, sometimes the current path will simply not achieve the expected results. If this is the case then it's clearly time go back to the Drawing Board to bring in some fresh thinking and leverage the network of trusted advisers.

In my own personal adventure I am struggling to move my handicap. As a proclaimed Fix-it guy having turned around a number of Technology businesses, I have always viewed that I could fix my game all by myself. I have subscribed to the Books, the Gizmo's, the Over-correction, the Under correction, new clubs, new balls and the golf Channel. I have even listened to my good friend "Lar" who suggested "that's all in way your dress for the game!" I have consistently resisted engaging the Pro as I feared that the re-building would be so disruptive to the pathetic game I currently process. Having struggled through a horrible game on the weekend I came to the conclusion that it's time to go back to the Drawing Board.

We have written in previous blogs about the importance of Trusted Advisers and Board Members as important tools in an Entrepreneur's available network. The same holds true for service providers including legal, tax, accounting & strategic marketing professionals. A couple of my clients are struggling with getting that first customer to say yes. Sometimes it may the simplest of things that will make all the difference so we go through analytic process of deciding what's working, what's not and try to identify who or what will it take to make the customer say yes. Drafting a New Game Plan leveraging on what we know comes out of this process.

For those following the High Handicapper, the Drawing Board indicated that I need to bring in the professional help. I engaged Jim (CPGA guy) to work with me on the range in the pouring rain. (Never really rains on the course). After an hour of work, we identified a simple three things that could consistently straighten out the shots and reduce that score. Applying the advice yesterday was a Miracle! "Jimmy the Genius" has lived up to his reputation. Let's see if I can apply the concepts to a process of continuous improvement.

Just to be safe however I also went out and got that new golf shirt consistent with my colour palette. I wouldn't want to stop receiving that "free advice" from "Lar".

Friday, August 7, 2009

Is Success Spelt with a Large S or Small s?

In our quest to commercialize Ontario's newest Innovative companies, a number of us are struggling with how to measure their progress and the definition of Ultimate Success. Many of my colleagues are big proponents of "the only measure is total number of Jobs Created" others are suggesting that "Revenue, Customers Acquired or Dollars of Investment Attracted" are more applicable indicators of achieving that Home Run.

For my clients, I encourage them to "Think Huge" and try to define their Home Run around their Vision statement. This forces them to become big thinkers and set a Large S target cannot be easily achieved by fixing one thing or completing a couple sub-tasks.

Sharon, an intern at the RIC-Centre did a little research around the Blue Jays this year. She notes that the team has had 3790 At Bats achieving 1020 hits. Of these hits, there have been 649 singles, 240 doubles, 7 triples and 124 Home Runs. The Large S target of hitting that Home Run has only occurred 3% of the times At Bat. Given this low probability, I am sure that the players in the batter box are defining a series of Small s targets like getting to first, not striking out, advancing the runner, not swinging at the the silly sinker etc.

Early stage companies are encouraged to work out a series of Small s targets in all facets of their business. These include completing the necessary business planning, building that unique set of features and services, populating a winning team, securing the first Beta customer, locking in critical financing and driving toward that first quarter of profitability to name a few. Small s successes will be easier to demonstrate short term wins and be an inspirational lift to the Entrepreneural teams. The target of hitting the ball over the Green Monster will come in its own time.

For me Thinking Huge this summer is to drive my handicap under 20. (For many of you this would simply be a Base Hit! You have no idea how big this challenge is for my game.) Now that I have posted this blog, I can head out to the first tee and try to avoid driling it into the woods......

I will celebrate my Small s accomplishments on the patio of the 19th - anyone care to join me?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Those Pesky Independent Directors

A young CEO recently asked for some advice. She had just signed off on a third party investment which came with the requirement to add an Independent Board member to the team. The CEO commented that "The dynamics and complexity of the Boardroom has changed in a number of significant ways. I need some help in understanding what is unfolding." The key changes as she described them included:

1) "The new Independent member has asked for a lot of background material about the company, our shareholders, suppliers, accounts receivable, contracts, payables, risks, issues and opportunities, personnel files, incentive plans - the list was long and the more I provided the more information I was requested to deliver." I respond -it is very important that a new member of the board come up to speed as quickly as possible. Much of the material that you have used in your recent due diligence will provide the Director with the necessary background for an effective Board Orientation.

2) Prior to the meeting, a Detailed Agenda was requested that included a start, stop and time allocation for each agenda item. In addition, we were asked to categorize the agenda into a) Standing Matters (CEO Report, Financial Update, Pipeline Review), b) Committee Reports: (Finance, Human Resources, Governance & Risk) c) New Items: (For Information Only or Decision Required), d) In Camera session (excludes CEO). I respond - this is just common sense. Directors are busy and organized professionals. An appropriate well constituted meeting agenda is critical to ensure meeting efficiency. The Chair of course will need to be strong to ensure that the meeting plan stays on track. An In Camera session without management is a must.

3) A couple days prior to the meeting a detailed Board Package of supporting materials was sent out to all members. Our new board member was looking for at least 5 days with the supporting materials. Twenty four hours in advance of the meeting, the final materials were emailed or faxed - Our new member was happy that the changes to the final package were small. I respond - Directors are appointed to help enhance management's decision making. They will need to see a sufficient level of detail to understand the options and recommendations made by management. Given schedules and commitments 5 days is the minimum period of time to allow the member to read and absorb the materials. Often after the Board Package goes out there are critical updates that need to get sent - these updates should be sent no later then 24 hours in advance of the meeting and should not form the core of the agenda materials.

4) The meeting itself also changed quite dramatically. With all the materials sent out in advance everyone on the Board had a chance to understand where we were at. The board meeting dynamics now changed to a barrage of questions about the assumptions, the trends and associated conclusions related to the materials. I respond - Asking questions helps with the clarity and provides a real time mechanism to test the quality and validity of management recommendations. It is often stated that there are no "wrong questions" in the board meeting. Directors who don't understand a particular point will most certainly speak up.

The Board of Directors are appointed by the Shareholders and their purpose is to "Enhance Executive Decision Making". They are bound by a Duty of Loyalty that demands that they act in the best interests of the Stakeholders. Stakeholders include not only shareholders but customers, suppliers, NGO's, employees, government agencies and others with a "stake" in the companies business. Their Duty of Care is to act in a matter that is consistent with what a reasonable person would do when presented with a similar set of facts.

Directors perform their duties by a) demanding a high calibre Board Package that contains the right amount of detail and is delivered in well in advance of the meeting, b) asking lots of questions to improve clarity and test what if scenarios and c) digging into their wide and deep leadership expertise to help guide management.
The CEO who asked for the assistance left our session with a significantly enlightened view of that Pesky Independent Board member. Does it now make sense to you?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bright & Not Blurry Eyed Business Plans

I finally broke down over the weekend and attacked the stack of 5 Business Plans that I promised to read and comment on. They ranged in length from 15 to 80 pages and covered multiple industries and segments. My mind was whirling as I completed the last " conclusion" section. As I compared and contrasted the individual documents I was inspired to write a couple tips to help those Entrepreneurs with their next versions.

a) Capture My Attention Quickly - Perhaps its starts with your overarching vision, but find a clever way establishing and leading our interest in your product or service quickly.

b) Make it Easy to Read and Compelling to Turn the Pages - Think about that spy novel that drives you aborb the content and turn the pages as the plot unfolds.

c) Follow Business Plan Protocol - There are many protocols & templates out there and they all lead the reader through a time tested process. All of the heading and topics will need to be addressed so there are no short-cuts to be taken. One client suggested that since their product was so unique they had no competitors and "never would' - therefore they left the section completely out!

d) Cadence your Content with Appropriate Emphasis - A colleague of mine at MaRS - Andy Haigh ( has developed a 25 page format for the business plan. His rationale is simple - create something that the reader can digest in a single sitting - lean towards 25 pages rather then 60. The flow goes something like:
  • Executive Summary (2-3 pages) - Company description, Value Proposition, Key Highlights
  • Introduction (2-3 pages) - What is the problem that the company is trying to solve?
  • Product & Technology (2-4 pages) - How does your technology solve the problem?
  • Market Size (2-4 pages) - Start with the big numbers and narrow it down to your market.
  • Go to Market Strategy (2-3 pages) - How do you plan on attacking the marketplace?
  • Competition (2-3 pages) - How are you "better, faster, cheaper" ?
  • Management (2 pages) - Do you have the team to make it all come together?
  • Financial Summary (2-3 pages) - Financial Model, Investment Opportunity, Cash Flows.
  • Strong Summary (1 page) - Re-iterate Key Points

e) Visualize at Every Opportunity - 25 pages of solid text will not work for your reader. Since a picture tells a 100o words - the photogragher or graphics designer are the world's most effective writers. Use charts, graphs, pictures, white space and section headings to help illustrate the points and focus the reader.

f) Proof Points - Do you have the customers, beta trials, strategic partnerships and trending financials to clearly demonstrate that you have it right?

g) Strong Finish - Having lead the reader through a compelling 25 page journey, re-iterate the key points to leave them with a lasting impresssion.

I have tried to capture in a few words what is clearly a significant art form. Have Andy and I missed anything? We look forward to your feedback.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Advisory Boards - An Entrepreneur's Secret Weapon

We met with a young Entrepreneur a couple days ago who was making great progress in commercializing his technology. He had locked down his IP, sized his large addressable market, secured some strategic relationships and was well down the path of turning a discussion into a revenue generating pilot. As we turned to analyse his Go to Market strategy something jumped off the page - the calibre of his Advisory Board. To date he had surrounded himself with family, friends and service providers. These linkages were critical to the early days of his incubation but clearly progression to the next level would be impaired without the right support. Our advice was simple - take a critical look at what your company will be facing in the next 12 months and map that to the talent of your Advisory Board - do you have what it will take to accelerate your growth path? Some of the more popular roles include:

  • Do you have a "CAPY"- someone who can help you raise your next round(s) of Capital?

  • Do you have an "Indy" - someone with deep industry Domain knowledge?

  • Do you have a "Connector" - someone with Contacts and connections?

  • Do you have the "Devil" - someone who will always play the alternative advocate?

  • Do you have the "Seasoner "- someone who has been there and done it before?

All of these roles will be critical to any early stage company looking to get to the next level.

Does your company have what it will take?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Have you seen "In Business" on Rogers 10

In late June I had the pleasure to do some Live TV. David Wojcik the host and producer of In Business ( had been at our Innovator Idol and was inspired to do the final show of the 2008/09 series on Business Incubators. I was joined on the program by Av Utukuri - the CTO of Nytric ( - a company focused on "bringing exciting new ideas to life." David W facilitated a lively discussion in which AV described a number of the cool companies he was incubating in his Mississauga based office and I got to outline what we do at the RIC-Centre ( as part of the Ontario Commercialization Network. The In Business program was wrapping up for the season - but it will be back in September. If you live in Mississauga and have access to Rogers 10 I suggest you check out the summer re-run schedule. David has done a terrific job packaging a show that concentrates On Business, For Business and of course In Business. I look forward to David's new season and the opportunity to get some of my clients profiled on his program.

Innovator Idol - A new pilot for a TV show?

The concept came to us as we thought about all the neat companies that we were seeing through our Entrepreneur In Residence (EIR) work at OCETA and the RIC-Centre. James Sbrolla ( another of those EIR's in the Ontario Commercialization Network and I were keen to showcase some of the companies that we were working with. With significant support from the RIC-Centre team (Sharon, Radi and Pam) were created Innovator Idol. The concept mirrored that popular TV show that concluded in early June.
We created a panel consisting of an Angel investor (Henry Vehovec, a Venture Capitalist (Michael Curry and a representative from the Innovation Accelerator Fund (IAF) (Shriley Speakman Over a beer or two James and I sifted through a signficant number of applications and chose 4 companies that were clearly up to the challenge. These included Thoughtspeed ( - a ecommerce health application, IDAlerts ( - an identity theft protection company, Refined Data ( - a risk management software system and Real Tech ( - water quality test instrumentation. Each company was given 6 minutes to present their unique story and another 6 minutes to answer questions from the panel and audience. The panelists were then asked to provide their constructive feedback to each of the presentors. In a stroke of innovative genius, Radi and Sharon found some SMS voting software and with a little help we were able to have the sold out audience vote the company that they were most likely to invest their own money into.
The winning company was Real Tech represented by their CEO Jodi Glover. Congradulations to all of the presenting companies and to the audience for their support and appreciation. The event was such a success that James and I are already scheduling the next visit to the Pub to plot the next version - I am thinking something like: "...Ontario's Got Innovation Talent..."

What do you think?

"Is there anyone out there....?"

Having recently done some maintenance on my Ipod, I was reminded about one of my favourite Pink Floyd songs that contained the phrase: "..... Is there anyone out there...". For those that know me well I have spent the past 2.5 years trying to increase my Significant Impact. I have done this by focusing more on Not-For-Profit work, increasing my level of Coaching and Mentoring and spreading the word about Good Governance, Climate Change and Sustainability. Encouraged by colleagues such as Gordo, Pinky and the 'Dag, I have been long overdue in establishing a Blog to support these efforts.

Late last year I signed up to be an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) within the Ontario Commercialization Network. This network includes many well known brands including MaRS (, Communitech, Tech Alliance, ISCM, OCRI, OCETA and BioEnterprise. Most of my EIR is centred in Peel, Halton, Hamilton and occasionally in Toronto. I initiate my work from the RIC-Centre ( in Missisauga. This brand is emerging as one of the key resources in the commercialization network. Supported by the Ministry of Reaserch and Innovation (MRI), the Brampton / Caledon / Mississauga Board of Trades and the University of Toronto Mississauga, we are helping young organizations "...Accelerate Their Time to Commercilization." The work is challenging, fulfilling and a ton of fun - especially if you can see the progress these companies are starting to make.

Consequently, I now have a steady and reliable feed of interesting and exciting stories about our Innovation Economy in southern Ontario. The time is ripe for me to get onto the computer and create a regular feed of information for my newly minted Blog. As a result of my 'slow off the mark' approach, I have some key catch up to do this month.

Once again, I ask the Question: ".... Is there anyone out there........?"