Archive | Personal Development

Good Business Books for Startups?

The below first appeared on Quora as an answer to the question, “What are some awesome books to read for business startups?”

Naturally there are going to be some books that I would recommend for companies in certain industries and not others… but since your question is more generic… here is a generic list of books you should consider: (links will direct you to Amazon)

*NOTE: All of these are available in Audio from Amazon/Audible. Follow links to Amazon for all available versions.

The E-Myth Revisited: Explains the difference between entrepreneurs, mechanics, and managers and helps you understand how to find the right people to grow an organization by beginning with the end in mind.

The Lean Startup: The book that revolutioned the idea of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Explains the method for getting a product to market and developing a fast feedback loop so the product can evolve and you can win the market lighting fast.

The Personal MBA: The book is meant to be a crash course in everything you need to know about running a business from accounting to marketing. Its a great rough overview.

Start With Why: Helps you understand how to find purpose as an individual, organization, and product so as to allow one to find the right customers, develop the right products, and maximize profits.

If you want to clarify the type of business you are starting or specific concerns you have I could make more specific recommendations.

Here are a list of Business Books that I may not directly recommend for a “startup” but I would say anyone in any business who wants to succeed and grow the company should read regardless:

I could continue but the list would get long very quickly 🙂

A Man Without Hobbies?

I just searched online for a definition of “hobby.” It is:

An activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure.

Based on that definition I am not sure what hobbies, if any, I have.

I have activities I enjoy in which I have in the past engaged or in which I might on rare occasion engage. For example I love playing Paintball or at very least I used to love it and assume I still would enjoy playing. I haven't played in over a decade and sold my equipment over 6 years ago.

I enjoy, or again at very least used to enjoy, spelunking. I used to keep a spelunking bag of appropriate gear in the trunk of my car in case I got the itch to explore a new cave one day after work. It's been over 13 years since I was in a cave.

You might begin to feel pity for me. Poor Jacob is too busy to do his favorite things. You shouldn't. I don't ever experience any feelings of missing these activities. If I really missed them with any significant amount of emotion I would find a way to engage in them again… but I don't. I'm not lacking in the resources to do so. Of course i claim to be a busy person but what adult human doesn't claim to be busy and yet I observe that friends, family members, and other adults around me routinely justify allotting resources to a hobby. Humans do this because we feel passion for something and like to engage in that thing in order to feel happy or balanced.

So then I end with a few potential theories about myself.

Perhaps I enjoy my average day of none leisure activity (ie work and family time) sufficiently so to feel fulfilled, happy, and balanced.

Or perhaps I have a mental imbalance which affords me the ability to feel balanced despite a lack of variety or “fun” activity.

Or perhaps I'm just ultimately boring as a person. I would rather not inconvenience myself beyond any small measure in order to do something I profess to greatly enjoy.

The truth is probably some mixture of the three ideas but wherever the truth is what I do know is that I feel perfectly happy and balanced.

Now back to work…

Entrepreneurs You Are Machine Builders

Previously I wrote about the most common misconceptions and lies of entrepreneurs. Here we will talk about the correct vision of the modern entrepreneur. The way I have learned and understand it best is using the metaphor of building machines.

I view a business as a machine, simple or complex, that generates a profit. It may sound overly simple at first but at the core that is the idea. In my head I see the machine as a box that has an input on one side and an output on the other side. Into the input the entrepreneur inserts resources which may include some or all of the following: time, money, energy, capital, etc. On the other side of the machine money comes out. The work of the entrepreneur is to make sure that more money comes out of the output than went into the input. This often requires taking the machine apart and changing the mechanics to make the machine more efficient. See image below.

building a business

The good thing about building a business is that you can start just by building the simplest form of your machine (often called the minimal viable product or MVP). Put differently you want to start by inserting one dollar of resources into the machine and tweak the machine until two dollars come out the other side. Once you have these core “nuts and bolts” configured you can start to input one hundred dollars into one side and expect two hundred dollars to come out the other side.

An example of a simple machine

An entrepreneur may write an extensive guide on how to do something… say, “How to install surround sound speakers into your walls and ceiling without hiring a contractor.” The entrepreneur spends $50 on some advertisements on Google to appear when people search for “How to install speakers in walls.” The entrepreneur charges $25 for the downloadable book on their website and makes four sales from the $50 in advertising. $50 went into the machine and $100 came out the other side. There was some other initial capital that went into the guide and the website but those costs will be minimal inputs over time as the machine outputs revenue.

An example of a complex machine

Proctor and Gamble employ a R&D team to experiment with various chemicals to come up with new product ideas. One of the engineers figures out how to engineer a chemical to effectively get rid of odors. The company spends a few hundred thousand dollars working on the formula and product branding. Then another few hundred thousand to do focus groups and product testing. Eventually P&G does a test launch of the product in select Walmart stores. After a few months of figuring out what packaging makes it move off the shelves P&G invests a few million dollars in that local market for TV advertising about the product. They spend a few hundred thousand to create a few different versions of the ad to find out which version works best to educate consumers. Eventually the right formula of packaging and marketing is discovered and the product is launched nationally. We haven't even talked about the complexity of manufacturing and distribution. At this point several million dollars are put into the machine and it begins to turn out millions.

Complex machines tend to carry much greater risk and liability because so much more money may have to go into the machine to test if it works. This is why today's entrepreneurs are more focused than ever on developing a minimal viable product in order to test the machine at a low scale. Once the machine functions the entrepreneur can scale it into a big business by inputting more resources.

Once the entrepreneur discovers the tricks of machine building its much easier to replicate the process with new product ideas.

So the question is, what machine are you building?

 

The Killing Paradigms or Lies of Entrepreneurship

Thinking back on my various failed ventures I can always identify one of the two paradigms below as being the driving factor in my failure. When I talk to would be or starting out entrepreneurs I now more easily recognize when they are equally stuck in one of these paradigms. The biggest issue is that all Entrepreneurs know these two paradigms (or lies) exist but somehow when we are caught up in the excitement of building a business we think we are exceptions to the lie.

Lie #1: If I Build It They Will Come

This is the product lie. Business owners are so in love with and emotionally attached to the product or service that is being built that we can't see past the most prevalent killer paradigm of all. We somehow believe that when we bring this thing to market everyone will show up to buy it and then they will tell all their friends who will be there the next day to buy it and within a few years we will be the next Starbucks. This so rarely happens and yet we attach ourselves to it. If I invent the new mouse trap, if I create a better Facebook, if I launch this new blog, if I provide this service far better than anyone else out there… then I will make millions.

This is a lie because it takes a lot of work to get humans to change their behavior. It requires awareness and desire. Creating both is expensive. So most entrepreneurs who live in this paradigm either give up or go broke when they realize how much money it is going to cost to actually acquire a customer or two.

To give one of my own examples I remember when I launched my first blog. The blog was ground breaking and addressed a topic that was growing and under served. I was convinced that visitors would stumble upon it in droves and the ad revenue would pay off my mortgage. They didn't and it didn't.

Lie #2: Right now I make a little money with this. Somehow I will one day make a lot of money with this

This is the scalability lie. This usually happens to entrepreneurs who have found a simple way to make a little money. Perhaps you figured out you can buy product x at wholesale and sell it on eBay at retail or you can provide a service to friends of doing X thing that you are really good at, or you are really good at making Xs and they sell fairly well on craigslist. Any of these things could be something that could in theory build a big business but not if you continue to do it the way you are doing it.

In order to create a big business and make good money you either have to work 100s of hours a week making or selling product x, OR you have to figure out how to get leverage and remove yourself from the business. Real entrepreneurs do what they do in order to achieve some level of freedom however they define that. Working endless hours is rarely a part of that definition of freedom.

The first example that comes to my mind was a promotional apparel business I started back in 2006 with a partner. We essentially resold apparel services from a local print shop. Profit margins were good enough to justify doing it at the time but not big enough to add middlemen (salesman) to what was already a middle man operation. The two of us only had so many hours in the day so eventually we folded it up frustrated that it never could grow beyond where it started.

This picture is appropriate for this blog post because its a screenshot of a video I made for the blog I mentioned above and in the video I'm wearing a tshirt with the logo of our old promotional apparel business at that time 🙂

entrepreneur mistakes

All Humans Are Perfectly Disciplined

discipline

I recently listened to a podcast with Dan Sullivan. Dan is one the industries most successful and well known Entrepreneur coaches. In the podcast he taught me a different way of thinking about Discipline and I wanted to share it today.

Most of us think of Discipline as something we have or don't have or need to work harder at having or doing. You might say, I wish I was more disciplined so I would exercise more.

Dan's take on this is that all humans have perfect discipline to our habits. Put differently, the problem isn't that a person lacks discipline but that the person has the wrong habits or is at very least lacking in the habit they wish to have.

I like this approach because it changes the approach to the solution. If there is something I wish was different about my life my best approach isn't just to “try harder” to be more disciplined. My best approach is to develop that as a habit because ultimately I will be disciplined to whatever habits I have.

Thanks for that golden nugget Dan!

Savvy Business and High Level Performance Reading Curriculum

Traditional education and I are not good friends. I attempted to get a 4 year degree in business with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and it didn't work out. I don't have good study skills and I have a chip on my shoulder as it relates to homework (which I think is just busy work). Add to that the cost of tuition and books and I've sworn it off forever. I do however think of myself as an educated person. In addition to the education I have derived from real life experience (which of course has no equal) I am an avid reader (or listener if you think listening to books doesn't count as reading). Naturally, since learning by reading is something I am passionate about I'm always recommending books to people based on what they are looking to do/learn/change. Yesterday I was accused of “having a book for everything.”

On occasion I do run into people who ask more broadly for a book list that I would recommend. I have developed this book list for individuals who I am mentoring and I thought it would be appropriate to share it here. Since I'm always reading new books and discovering older books that are really awesome I will return to this post to update it when I find a new golden nugget I think has to be on this MUST READ list. (Click here for my article on how you can double the number of books you read)

Lastly, before I give you the list, let me disclaim that I'm listing these books in an order that I think naturally builds on itself. If you are looking for books about a specific subject you may want to jump around. Also, if you are looking for a good book list based on specific business or personal development categories you may want to check Josh Kaufman's 99 Best Books List. He originally built the book as a curriculum he calls the Personal MBA. Since then he has written his own book which summarizes all the principles (listed below).

  1. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  2. Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
  3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  4. Good to Great by Jim Collins
  5. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  6. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Cargnegie
  7. The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
  8. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
  9. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker
  10. Automatic Millionaire by David Bach
  11. The Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris
  12. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  13. Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  14. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  15. Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute
  16. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  17. Start With Why by Simon Sinek
  18. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
  19. Tribes by Seth Godin
  20. What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
  21. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  22. The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
  23. The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey
  24. Built to Last by Jim Collins
  25. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
  26. First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham
  27. To Sell is Human by Dan Pink
  28. Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard
  29. The Millionaire Next Door – Thomas Stanley & William Danko

Making Voicemail a Tool of Productivity [Script]

IMG_1123I don't seem to get a ton of questions from friends or clients about how they should manage voicemail until they call me and hear my voicemail greetings. Voicemail is one more inbox that has to be managed in the scope of our productivity. In this article I'm going to share my feelings about how to manage voicemail along with my own scripts I currently use to help drive the right actions.

Voicemail Productivity Thoughts

  • Phone calls are generally speaking distractions. They interrupt you in the middle of highly focused activity. In an ideal world you want to limit distractions and while you can't always influence the time when others call you, you can choose to let it go to voicemail so as not to cause a distraction when you are in the middle of a high priority task
  • When I send someone to voicemail I need to train that caller to work based on my system of productivity. This is good for the caller since they want a response as quickly as possible and good for me since I can choose how/when I'm going to respond to various inquiries
  • People always inflate the urgency or priority of their own requests. Most people who call me always think that whatever they are calling about is urgent and important. By giving them a good voicemail greeting I can force them to re-evaluate how urgent it really is.
  • I ALWAYS ask people to be descriptive in their message/email/text. This will avoid emails that say “call me when you can.” I hate those.
  • I always prefer an email or text to a voicemail because they imply that I can and should reply via email or text. Voicemails imply that one should respond with a phone call. Perhaps I'm not as social as I should be but the truth is I like the flexibility and it better plays to my schedule and timeline of availability and productivity.

Script for my Office Phone:

You have reached the phone of %Insert name% with %Insert Company name%. I check (or don't check) my voicemail often but the fastest way to get a response from me is to send me an email at %insert email%. Please be descriptive in your email so I can support you in the most effective way possible. If this is an emergency please call my cell phone at %insert cell number%. Thank you.

When I'm Traveling:

You have reached the phone of %Insert name% with %Insert Company name%. I'm traveling and may not check my voicemail often until my return. The fastest way to get a response from me is to send me an email at %insert email%. Please be descriptive in your email so I can support you in the most effective way possible. If this is an emergency please call my cell phone at %insert cell number%. Thank you.

Script for my Cell Phone:

You have reached the phone of %insert name%. Please send me an email. I really don't get to my voicemails very often but if you email me I'll reply in short order. If you don't have my email address send me a text to this number and I'll gladly reply with my email address. If this is an emergency send me a text message with the details so I can respond accordingly. Thank you.

Guide to Outsourcing Stuff Worth Less than My Time

oursource to indiaMy first introduction to outsourcing was from Timothy Ferris's book, The Four Hour Work Week. Since then I've gradually increased the amount of things I outsource. While I'm still not to the point where I would like to be, I'm very comfortable with the process and have been successful in identifying some of the tasks in my world that should be outsourced. In my own view I still have a long way to go but recently a friend commented on how much he appreciated my success in outsourcing and wished he could get started. I write this article for anyone who wants to explore this but isn't sure where to start.

To Outsource or Not to Outsource

In order to determine if you should outsource something you need to answer three key questions:

1. Would it take more time for me to explain what/how to do it than it would for me to do it?

2. Based on how much my time is worth, would I lose money by doing this task myself?

3. If I regain the time I would have spent on this task by outsourcing it, can I fill that time with something equally or more valuable?

Question two of course implies that you know what your time is worth. If you haven't already you need to have a clear sense for what one hour of your time is worth. Calculate this by taking your annual take home revenue and dividing it by the total number of working hours.

What to Outsource?

About any task you can think of can be outsourced. Anything from online research, business PowerPoint presentations, online shopping, data entry, programming, graphic design, responding to emails, and much much more. The key for you, based on the above questions, is to identify the tasks that take your energy and limit your total output per hour.

For me I focus on outsourcing several key activities.

All Data Entry. All Programming/Coding. All Research.

Where to Outsource?

There are several good resources you can draw on in starting your new outsourcing lifestyle. First, there are many organization that specialize in certain types of tasks. If you need mostly personal assistant stuff (buy things, send flowers, research travel) you can go to someone like YourManInIndia.com and their group will take care of you. If you need mostly business and professional tasks (sales decks, reports, market research, business plans) you can work with someone like BrickWorkIndia.com. These types of specialized groups are going to have more consistent quality, deeper resources, and faster execution. They will demand a premium price.

If you want to start small, or aren't sure where to go you can try one of several different freelancer websites like, elance.com, freelancer.com, odesk.com, and post your project for all the various freelancers in the world to bid on it. This is my method of choice. It gives me options, guarantees competitive pricing, and allows me to meet talented people I can rehire in the future for similar work. This is how I have found my best designers, programmers, and writers.

How to Outsource?

Quality experiences and quality task completion at or under budget happens only when you know how to work with your freelancer. The key is in project description. Here are some tips:

1. Always error on the side of being overly detailed and clear in the project/task description.

2. Always ask the freelancer to check in with you a few hours into the project so you can confirm they are doing what you asked how you want it.

3. Whenever possible give the freelancer an example of something similar to the desired outcome.

4. Read reviews and ask for references.

5. Ask the freelancer to provide a quick sample or to repeat back to you in their words what they understood as the task.

The Son of Man Hath Descended Below Them All – Peace On Earth

From 1861 to 1865 appx 850,000 Americans died in battle in the most deadly war in American History. The Civil war claimed more than double the lives of the next deadliest war (406,000 in WWII). In just the battle of Gettysburg over 50,000 men and boys died on the battle field. This was not a war that would resolve itself with diplomacy or negotiations. Both sides were willing to kill and die to win and that is exactly what happened. President Lincoln, in his first ever political office, directed the Union forces to fight in battle and crush the confederate armies.

Now, go back before the Civil war started and meet a promising man named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Henry was born in 1807 in modern day Maine and attended college at Bowdoin. Later he would go on to be a professor at Bowdoin and eventually Harvard. He was considered the most popular American Poet of his day and would eventually find his face on a US Postal Stamp. Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke at his funeral. Like most northerners Henry sided with the Union cause in the Civil War but soon after the war started he was struck with tragedy.

In mid 1861 his wife's dress caught fire. Despite best efforts to put out the fire by all in the house she was badly injured and died within 24 hours from the injuries. Henry was also injured and grew a long beard the rest of his life to hide the scars on his face obtained when trying to beat out the fire that killed his wife. Henry was so strucken with grief that we was virtually unable to write poetry for the remained of his life, essentially retiring after her death.

Almost two years later, Henry's oldest son Charles was in his 19th year, had decided to join the Union army against his father's wishes. He wrote home in a letter on March 14th 1863, “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer. I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.” Not too long later he was appointed to the office of lieutenant but was severely injured in the Battle of Mile Run on Nov 26th 1863.

30 days later, Henry found himself trying to nurse his son back to health, in the middle of the worst American conflict in all our history. His wife dead, his oldest child barely alive, and the world around him crumbling. In that day, Christmas 1863 he sat down and wrote a poem he titled “Christmas Bells.” Today we know his poem as the carol, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.”

Life is difficult. We all live through hard trials. Can any of us begin to understand the true misery and suffering endured by Longfellow or others of that Civil War era? As his poem suggests, we make it through these difficult times by remembering Jesus Christ who “descended below them all” suffering both body and spirit on our behalf.

Christmas is special because we remember the Savior who makes our lives easier and worth it. As the angels sang, and as Longfellow's poem suggests, Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.

Merry Christmas.

The “It’s Not About Me Moment”

I was on a hike with some friends recently. Adam, a friend started to tell me about a time many years ago when he attended a talk by Stephen R. Covey in which he spoke of the importance of focusing on others. My friend Adam told me that was the beginning for him. The beginning of a new paradigm of work, family, career, and so much more.

brainstorming-411589_1280I can relate. I had a similar moment in 2006 when I attended a retreat where a very smart man named Les spent a few hours explaining the difference between producers and consumers. That was the day when I understood that life is about creating value for others.

Every successful person has a moment like that. A moment when they realize life is about creating value for others. There are a lot of people in the camp of naysayers who think it's truly a load of crap. These are the people who think work is about making money and money is about being happy. They are of course wrong and their passion for cash will only get them so far.

What was the moment for you?