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Sunday, October 4, 2015

6 Areas a startup CEO must learn

CEOs must learn to wear many Hats!

A CEO of a startup has many responsibilities when creating a company for the first time.  Everyone has a high level of dependence on the person leading the company and that person must meet all expectations of staff, the board, and investors.  Entrepreneurs are busy identifying technologies, developing business plans & presentations, and trying to run companies on shoestring budgets.  Occasionally, the CEO is the only employee in the company for significant periods.  After obtaining funding, they must perform in order to meet expectations of the investment community.

People possess certain skills and need to learn others. It is hard to know what one does not know!  Running a company is a learning process and nearly every day requires learning something new.  No wonder that post close of a significant financing that one CEO asked me, “What is a CEO supposed to do?” 

The skill set does not come naturally to many and the requirements are not instinctive.  In fact, the complexity of the job is something that goes beyond what one can learn in books.  The problem is that each day some new event arises that can potentially change the business.  This requires constantly learning to address the event and make the best decisions as well as take appropriate actions.  The results may be perfect or require modifications in order to end up in the correct place.   Sometimes decisions are horrible and a complete overhaul is needed!

The list below covers things a CEO of a startup may want to be aware of before starting any new endeavor.  You will soon be aware that the CEO has to wear many hats, so pay attention to number 6 as well as the others!


1.     Lead & manage the company - Eventually, startup companies obtain funding and hire a team; or in the absence of funding they simply dissolve and go away.   A successful financing usually occurs because of hard work by the founding CEO and the team, assuming the team is already onboard.  Funded companies must deliver on milestones and promises made to investors.  This requires strong leadership and management by the CEO.  It is important to get the best the team has to offer; this requires leadership. It is also critical that the team focus on key and important tasks thus requiring management by the CEO.  The more the CEO can learn about the business and the team, the better the ability to integrate these two required skills.  You may need to learn leadership and management techniques over time. If you have never had such responsibilities, consider having mentors and advisors to provide advice and talk over issues.


2.     Manage budgets & report on finances – Whether your company is private or public, you must learn to manage to a budget.  Actually, you must first learn to create lean and effective budgets.   Any funds raised must last to key events that will allow for the next financing or product launch.  Running out of money is not something to experience, unless you enjoy the pain of a severe down round or closure of a business.  The reporting aspect is essential to ensure that your investors know you are not wasting their money.  If you are in a public company, it is a legal requirement and the CEO is obligated to sign off on the accuracy of the reporting.  Inaccuracy in reporting can have negative consequences, some of which can be a legal nightmare. 


3.     Identify milestones & meet timelines – Milestones are defined prior to raising the first rounds of capital.  The need to define the milestones never goes away and new ones are created annually.  Either the Board wants them to rate the CEO performance or investors want them to monitor the progress of the investment.  Under promise and over perform” is often a good strategy because setting realistic expectations is a key part of a CEO’s job.  No one likes surprises unless they are highly beneficial to everyone! 


4.     Raise capital – It is often said that a company is always in need of new money.  The sources can range from sale of equity to loans backed by assets.  CEOs in startups are always traveling to meet with prospective investors.  These meetings help to pre-condition the equity markets by making potential future investors aware of your company.  Stocks in public companies trade because there are buyers that believe the company is exciting and there are sellers that want out.  Failure to have awareness in the investor community can result in issues for many investors.  Learn more about this from the article, “Some markets are impossible to control.”


5.     Seek & interface with investors – Investors in the company have ownership and must be kept happy.  Investors will sell or take undesirable actions if they become disgruntled and poorly managed.  Investors need explanations when failing to meet objectives defined by the CEO.  They will need regular updates to see how their investment value is growing.  Investors became involved because the liked the story.  When the story changes, they must told how the changes will affect them.  One of the most difficult times the CEO can experience is standing in front of a group of investors explaining why their investment is not doing well!


6.     Everything else – In case you are not experienced in running a startup, this category is one requiring your particular attention.  The facts are that the CEO is responsible for everything in the company good and bad.  When no one empties the trash, it becomes your job.  When someone quits, you need to find a replacement and maybe fill in while searching.  The team may have personal issues, so you become a parent “like” and offer help, if appropriate.  The company fails to perform; it is your responsibility even though you may be able to identify other causes.  The CEO is the face of the company. The CEO receives the blame in bad times and congratulations for a fantastic job in good times.  Do not underestimate the responsibility or effort required to create and run a startup!


7.     Think Agile - Surprise, bet by now you thought there were only 6!  Things rarely go as planned and many times the path to success is not a straight line.  All too often events turn negative requiring you to find a way to reverse them or find a different route to success.  Learning to think and act quickly in a most thoughtful manner is absolutely essential. 


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 



Sunday, September 27, 2015

4 Actions help entrepreneurs avoid getting trapped

It is your choice to walk through or avoid this web!

Spiders create elaborate webs to trap their food.  They spend long hours creating intricate patterns in places potential prey might visit.  The patterns can be beautiful to observe, but people often do not see the web and walk through them getting an immediate icky sensation!  So, why not look and identify webs in advance and make an effort to avoid them.  You are not likely to avoid all of them, but the act of careful observance and planning may prevent you from using your face as a cleaning device.


No matter how skilled you are or well-planned your business is, problems almost always arise.  Being prepared for the unexpected is important to exiting unpleasant situations with the best possible outcome.  Planning for all unexpected events is not possible, but a few may be anticipated and alternatives identified in advance.  You are certain to be totally blindsided by some events, so your ability to react efficiently and quickly may make the difference between success and failure.


The following list provides a few suggestions to help you:


1.      Learn as much as possible – Any route to a goal or destination may have multiple paths to reach a successful conclusion.  Sometimes, interim steps are adjustable or have alternate paths.  Only by careful study and an understanding the objectives and routes can one identify suitable alternate paths. 


2.      Watch the road – It is hard to avoid a collision while texting on your phone.  In short, keep your eyes on the road.  In the case of business, the objectives and end products are the final destination.  The road is your route of getting there.  You need both a long range and short range vision of the path and the goals.  Do not take your eyes off the prize!


3.      Plan ahead – It is easy to see all the spider webs under ones house if the lights are on.  You can decide in advance to avoid them or find a means of clearing them as you move through the space to do a repair.  Webs that can trap exist in business as well.  Thinking ahead and seeking ways to avoid the problems may help you eliminate or reduce the danger of many traps.  You will still get hit with the unexpected, but maybe you can reduce the number of unexpected events and save energy and time.


4.      Learn to react quickly – Trouble strikes when you least expect it.  What will you do?  Learning to react quickly and making solid business decisions is critical.  In short, remain Agile in your Thinking!


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Agile Teams improve chances of success

Follow me and I will help you grow!

Entrepreneurs go through extremes rarely experienced by the normal work force.  These entrepreneurs are forced to learn a broader range of information in order to run a business.  The entrepreneurial duties may encompass cleaning the floors one day and inventing a new product on another day.  They may be required to tackle a personnel issue while raising capital just to keep the business alive.  All of these tasks create fantastic learning experiences for the entrepreneur but that new found knowledge is not always shared with the team.

Because the entrepreneurs is the most knowledgeable about the business, the team members constantly seeks advice from their leader.  Passing out bits of wisdom daily helps employees but it may not teach or encourage them to think for themselves.  One important fact that every entrepreneur would do well to learn is that the sum of knowledge of the team is likely greater than that of any individual in the team.  Teaching what you know is great and extremely important, but pressing the team to go beyond what is taught forces them to think and use their own skills to improve the business.

Encouragement of the team members to participate in building the business may help take the business to new levels.  Imagine the collective minds and interests all working toward the same goal of becoming the best business possible.  Encourage their abilities and have them seek improved solutions or better products thus making the business a real winner.  Imagine an environment where the entire staff feels empowered to build a fantastic business and has the pride and desire to do so.

In a recent conference, L. David Marquet author of “Turn the Ship around” described his navy experience of passing along an order that was impossible to follow.  The crew was highly trained and oriented to follow orders without question.  They were also reluctant to provide any feedback or question authority.  Mr. Marquet’s realization of the need to change and force the crew to be stronger contributors resulted in a ship with one of the worst performance records becoming one with a stellar operational record.  It is this ability to unify and draw from the team that takes them from working like robots to being an all-star team providing outstanding contributions.

The ability to direct all the team to be participants and active contributors helps to ensure that things are not missed.  It is not possible to know everything or to see all issues.  Having the minds and hearts of the team focused on the improvement of the business will help in the creation of an all-star business.  After all, creating a highly successful business is the dream of every entrepreneur.  Why not share that vision with the team and empower them to help achieve that goal!

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

4 Ways entrepreneurs pay it forward

Wouldn't life be better if everyone did a little to "pay it forward?"

Entrepreneurs work very hard 24/7!  They create startups and strive to build their businesses that create countless jobs.  They encounter many struggles and often receive little thanks for their efforts.  Eventually, they succeed or start something new.  This is a cycle that seems daunting for many, but many entrepreneurs are committed to this life style.

Win or lose in the business world, each entrepreneur has an opportunity to succeed in life by using precious resources to help others.  There are many ways this can be done and each person needs to find an outlet important to them.  Many people want to help others in some manner but seem to find little time to become involved.  It is with this idea that the list below may serve as a means of helping you find that niche that strikes a passion in your life.

1.      Less fortunate:  It is not possible to walk the streets in a major city and fail to see people in need.  Maybe you feel they are scamming and not really in need so you walk by.  There are reputable charities that will help those with true misfortune in their lives.  Perhaps you can devote a little time to physically help a charity or feel able to donate money from your personal reserves.  Occasionally, someone you know personally has fallen on hard times and could use a hand.  Just lending an ear and helping them sort out troubles may be enough.


2.      Youth & employees:  Many people can benefit from your knowledge and skills.  Teaching & counseling on business issues are not always on the core agenda in schools.  No one knows your business like you, so who better to teach tomorrow’s leaders?   The old phrase “you can’t take it with you”, applies to knowledge as well as to money.  What better to leave behind than highly skilled and educated leaders!


3.      Money:  You hit the jack pot in your company and now you are rich.  Maybe you are just financially stable and have good health.  Finding ways to use some of your wealth to help charities or educational institutions is an option.  If your passion is education, perhaps contributing to a scholarship fund is of interest.  Some entrepreneurs create charitable trusts for their gifts and for soliciting funds for an area of interest.  In short, find something you feel comfortable with and consider giving.


4.      Memories:  Supporting someone emotionally, teaching new skills, giving financial assistance, or just listening and offering advice create positive memories in those being helped.  Maybe you recall a teacher or manager that was there for you.  Perhaps you feel you are successful because someone helped you.  You have memories of fondness or appreciation because of another person’s contributions in helping you.  You can leave such feeling behind in those you help!

The point seems a bit like the movie “Pay it forward.”  If you give to others, someone will be most grateful for the gift received from you.  Maybe they will be inspired to be the same kind and generous person that you appear to be to them.  By changing how you interact with those in your immediate sphere of influence, you have a great ability to alter a much larger sphere and help bring about a better place in the future. 

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 


Sunday, September 13, 2015

4 Ways entrepreneurs optimize time

Agile thinking is similar to playing chess!

Thinking agile is a bit like playing chess.  Many moves are possible, but planning several moves ahead and considering possible counter moves is essential to beating advanced players.  The same is true in fighting a battle.  The opponent is working to achieve a victory.  It takes advanced planning and consideration of potential responses to win in addition to agile reactions since the enemy never reacts as expected.

Even simple events may benefit from agile thinking.  Taking a trip to visit a relative is likely done by taking the same route used numerous times in the past.  What happens if there is an accident and the normal route is blocked?  Learning of the accident in advance allows for selection of alternate routes.  Filling the car with gas before the trip may save you from running out if the unexpected happens and you become trapped in traffic and unable to move for a few hours.  Perhaps you threw a few bottles of water and snacks in the car just in case.  You are more likely to weather the bad event with less pain and suffering by a little advanced planning.

Events can sometimes be predicted and sometimes they are unexpected.  Agile thinking is the ability to find the best route(s) to success, or “pivot” when meeting an unexpected event.  Agile thinking encourages seeking a goal by exploring more than one path and not by being stuck repeating the things over and over simply because it worked the first 9 times.  Consider that it may not work the 10th. 

As stated in Think Agile, “Man plans and God laughs.”  Entrepreneurs plan extensively but not all entrepreneurs achieve their ultimate goals.  Agile thinking can increase the chances of success by identifying roadblocks and alternatives in advance.  The art of Agile Thinking is a skill that can be learned.  The ability to consider, evaluate, and make plans rapidly is part of the process.  It also includes some of the following characteristics:

  • Trusting the people working with you
  • Relying on other peoples’ skills and knowledge in the areas where you may be lacking
  • Short working cycles to deliver a minimally viable product
  • Inspect and adapt your plans constantly
  • Fail Fast and Fail Often so you can learn what doesn't work and then move towards what will.

Agility is a factor that can be a great asset to entrepreneurs. Developing agility requires some willingness to explore and take risks. Not high risks, but risks in trying something different and unfamiliar. It is with an agile approach that new paths and greater successes may evolve more readily. The following are steps that may help you start to develop your agility in running a startup.

1.     Study & Learn – Any route to a goal or destination likely has multiple paths. Sometimes, interim steps are adjustable or have alternate paths. Only by understanding the objectives and routes can one identify the best alternate paths. 

2.     Plan – It is always essential to plan, otherwise, you never know where you will end up. Planning helps cement concepts and identify at least one possible route to the end. Making alternate plans is where you began to develop some skills that may make you more agile. Alternatives and preparation help build the needed confidence to make a shift in direction when needed.

3.     Experiment – Skill and knowledge is helpful, but occasionally experimenting with alternatives can provide new insight and direction. Experimentation can be as simple as discussing ideas with the team or partners.  Their input may lead to better approaches and less risk. Experimentation will enhance your awareness of novel alternatives that may arise. Your goal must be to recognize new alternatives that increase your success and act quickly! The process of learning, planning, and experimentation will embolden you to make more agile adjustments in your activities.

4.     Adjust – It is usually not possible to pick the perfect direction or activity on first try. Monitoring and adjusting can often help improve a mediocre plan resulting in an improved performance and greater return on investments. Staying on a rigid path is ok in many cases, but learning to be agile in your thinking will allow you to move faster and smarter toward a greater success level.


Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed and the Startup Blog. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter @twilli2861, ColonialTDC , Facebook, and Startup Group. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

24 Articles and interviews you may have missed

Over the last year, I have had articles published, mentions in articles by others, as well as interviews. They are listed below along with the links should you wish to learn more.

Media articles by Taffy Williams

1.              Young Upstarts: 5 Ways Small Business Owners Can Improve Their Agility In The New Year

2.              Independent Book Publishers Assn:  How to Be Agile with Deadlines

3.              Great Leadership by Dan McCarthy:  6 Steps That Help Generate Leaders from Followers

5.              CEO Blog Nation:  5 Steps Agile CEOs Use to Turn Fear and Indecision into Success

6.              All Business experts:   6 Ways for Entrepreneurs to Increase Agile Thinking

7.              The CEO Refresher: Agile leaders build team work for better performance

Articles by others

8.              Market Leadership Journal:  Can Entrepreneurs Thrive in an Agile Age?  by Tripp Braden

9.              Good Reads:  Think Agile: How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed  by Loafingcactus

10.          Forbes:  How Entrepreneurs Must Prepare For The Unthinkable by Martin Zwilling

11.          Linkedin:   For 2015, Think Agile! by Ben Dominitz

12.          Small Business Forum web.com:  3 Books Small Business Owners Should Read  by Carmine Gallo

13.          Las Vegas Business Press:  Books offer tips on blind spots, handling pressure by Jim Pawlak

Mentions in articles

14.          Investor’s Business Daily, Leaders & Success column:  Maximize Minutes By Guarding Against Time Bandits expert commentary in article by Michael Mink

15.          Investor’s Business Daily, Leaders & Success column:  Martha Harper Invented Franchised Beauty Salons – expert commentary in article by Scott Smith 

16.          Business Unplugged :  New Year's Business Resolutions for 2015 Item #61 by Carol Roth 

17.          Charlotte Observer:    Do you have the ability to “Think Agile?” by Jenny Wong

18.          Sources of Light:  Interview – Taffy Williams on How Entrepreneurs Can Think Agile  by J.D. Meier


19.          Blog Talk Radio:  #301 John Hope Bryant, Tom Caporaso, Joe Pergola, Taffy Williams hosted by Barry J Moltz

20.          School for Startups Radio:  March 4, 2015 – Alden Kat of MyKatio & Medical Entrepreneur Dr. Taffy Williams  hosted by Alden Kat

21.          Experience Pros:  Thirteeners, Bad News Better, Think Agile and Business Tips  hosted by Angel & Eric

22.          Women’s Business Talk Radio Network:   Think Agile for Business Success hosted by Diane Helbig

23.          Boss Academy:  Taffy Williams – Learn to think Agile in your Business hosted by Paul KIirch

24.          Positivity Strategist: Interview - Think Agile to Create an Agile Culture, With Taffy Williams hosted by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel