Paul Carney

Working hard to make things simple

Tag Archives: leadership

My First Web Business – The Final Chapter (Part 5 of 5)

If you have been following along (Part 1: The Idea, Part 2: The Goods, Part 3: Business Basics and Part 4: Getting Customers) then you will know that we are at a turning point. The business has grown so much that we have to decide what to do.

In the previous section, I stated that we had been “mystery shopped” by the “Catalog Critic” from the Wall Street Journal. The critic called me the day before it was to be released to let me know that we were earning a “Best Value” in the class and that the only reason we did not get “Best Overall” was that we did not include a “Teddy Bear” in the basket! Imagine that. We had included a “Pamper Mom” package in our baskets, but did not see a “Teddy Bear” as a “necessity”. It still was a great feat for or small company to get such great exposure.

When the write-up hit the streets, the orders jumped. I was still working a full-time job managing the professionals of a regional branch of a national consulting firm. As I would head home each night, one part of me would hope that there would be a ton of orders waiting, while the other (logical) part of me would realize that every dozen orders meant more hours of work ahead of me to build, package and prepare for shipping the next day. On most days, the “I-hope-there-are-lots-of-orders” part of me was completely satisfied!

It was at this point that I had to make a decision: do I quit my full-time job and continue to grow the business or do I try to find a way to capitalize on what I had built? Remember, I had created the business as a reason to build a web-based business in order to learn and prove that I could do it. Now that I had created a profitable business, the question remained if I really wanted to continue to build this business or not.

After reviewing my skills, talents and what I wanted to work on for the rest of my working career, I decided that I needed to sell the product line to someone who was already in the gift basket retailing business. I was ready to continue riding the “dot-com” boom and wanted to get involved with more dot-com start-ups instead of building this business bigger. So, I searched the industry to find an organization who retailed gifts, including gift baskets, but did not have a unique offering for baby gift baskets.

I talked with a few organizations and within 4 months found my answer. It was a national gift basket retailer who not only wanted to add the basket line to their offerings, but needed a lot of help with their web site! Given my experiences so far, they made me an offer to acquire the gift basket line that I had developed and to have me build them a new web site. In July, 1999, I negotiated cash at signing with royalty payments from the Baby Necessities gift baskets for the next 4 years.

And that was how Ishtot was born. I had started a successful business and sold its first product line. While that may be the end of that story, it is not the last product line that I sold. You see, my young daughter at the time had been getting a lot of spam in her email inbox and I could not control it well. I developed a plan to solve the problem: a closed-loop email communication system called Capango that would allow you to control who you communicated with via the web. I am still truly amazed when I re-read the archived FAQ as to how little the email spam situation has changed since 2004!

I built the product in 2002-2004 and then sold it to South49 Solutions so that it could become the foundation for the Natural Insight workforce management platform. I will tell you more about that story, including some fascinating details of taking venture capital, working with boards of directors and how one person can have a profound impact on the success or failure of a company, regardless of the quality of the team or product you have.

The 3 C’s to Get What You Want

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the Rolling Stones are singing in on Pandora for me right now.

While it may be true that you can’t always get what you want, that doesn’t mean that you should not try. From my experience, there are 3 characteristics that you must exhibit in order to get what you want:

  1. Confidence. People like to be around others who exhibit confidence. It gives them a sense of stability in a world of constant change. You don’t want to be over-confident or become arrogant, but offer the leadership to face adversity and overcome the situation. A confident person builds relationships with people so that they have someone they can turn to when they need it.
  2. Competence. If you are trying to get people to believe in or follow you, whether it be for business or a volunteer organization, you must be able to show them that you are competent. You must have a solid background to know what you are doing AND that you have surrounded yourself with people who can do the things you don’t know how to do. Remember: competence is not just about what you can do, but what the entire team is capable of doing.
  3. Credibility.Building a trust between you and other people is the foundation to any solid relationship. You have to be able to do more than “talk the talk” and actually “walk the walk”, as they say. Trust takes time and a lot of effort, like any good investment.

If you can master those attributes, then you will find it a lot easier to get what you want. And who knows, while you are at it, you “might just get what you need!”

Who do you know that exhibits these 3 characteristics? Doesn’t it seem that they consistently get what they want?

Manage the Exceptions – Anything Else is a Waste of Your Time

Each of us has a limited amount of time available to be effective, whether you are trying to learn a new skill, start a new company or get the attention of that hot person across the restaurant. To be successful, you have to evaluate the options and choose the ones that will help you reach your goal.

So how do you use your time? If you are smart, you will figure out how to manage only the exceptions. Here’s why:

Most things in your life operate from a system: a set of tasks or functions in a specific environment to achieve a goal. That system can involve people, money, or work and is designed to get you from point A to point B in a defined way. There is usually no room for deviations.

From my experience, it is the exceptions to that system that will cause the most issues. They force you to deviate from your path, become less effective and even more likely, miss meeting your goals. You can be doing all of the right things for your system, moving along quite nicely with your destination in site when, BAM! – an issue sends you reeling.

That is why you have to develop a plan to manage the exceptions. If you have done the proper job of setting up the system, it doesn’t require you to manage it. You need to spend your scarce management resources (time, talent, cash) on the exceptions by being able to:

  1. identify them as soon as possible
  2. develop a response plan to counteract them
  3. implement the response plan

This method of “rapid situation detection” and response will be crucial to your success. Just like having a good plan for hurricane evacuation can save your life, having a focus on managing exceptions in all aspects of your life will keep you on the road to your success.

What specific tools do you use to manage the exceptions in your life?

Ben Nadel – An Initiator

I had the opportunity last month to nominate someone who I thought was an “Initiator” –  someone who has poked, initiated, or done something remarkable. As I thought about people who have affected a large group of people through his/her actions, one person came to mind: Ben Nadel, a software engineer that is more than a coder – he is a personality that brings together a community.

This opportunity was presented by The Domino Project, which was started by Seth Godin in conjunction with Amazon to redefine the fundamental way that books are published. They started a quest for  examples of passionate self-starters who regularly go above and beyond to make a difference by doing. This was done to celebrate the release of Seth’s first book published through The Domino Project called, Poke the Box.

They asked for nominations and got over 200 submissions. They culled them down to a small list that everyone got to vote on. The winners of the voting were to have their stories published in a free book called Tales of the Revolution.

And guess what? Ben won! His story was selected from the many and has now been published! Congratulations, Ben!

If you have a Kindle, you can download the book for free here. If you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon has a Kindle reader for almost any device that you can use to read the story.

Please help me in congratulating Ben for the recognition of his outstanding work to “create a ruckus”. Also, please tell everyone about this so that they can all read the wonderful things that Ben does to deserve this credit.

You can read a full description of what I submitted by downloading this PDF document: 2011-04-BenNadel-ProjectDomino.

Keep doing the great things you do, Ben, and congratulations on being published in a business book!

Edit 04/22/11: Ben has added a blog entry about his inclusion in the book.

Who Has “Arrogant Humility”?

What an interesting phrase – “Arrogant Humility”.

At first, it sounds like a contradiction. How can you simultaneously display both:

  • arrogance – offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride
  • humility – modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank or standing

Paul English, Co-Founder and CTO of Kayak, used that phrase in a recent interview subtitled “Seven Days from Recruit to Employee” with The Boston Globe. In his interview, he talked about looking for people who are “energy amplifiers” and coined the phrase “arrogant humility” to better describe the people he looks for.

  • “It means being confident in what you’re good at,’’ he explains, “but humility to me means being curious.’’

I find that the phrase does describe some of the awesome people I have worked with in my many years. These are people who are confident in what they know and can accomplish, but at the same time know when to ask for help from other experts, when to trust other people and when to keep learning more.

Are you someone who others can describe with that phrase? What other qualities do you find that people with “arrogant humility” have?

Good, Fast or Cheap: Why You Have to Pick 2

It is the classic dilemma: you want to have great service, done quickly and for a cheap price. But the laws of physics only allow you to have 2 at a time and here is why.

Here are the combinations of 2 choices at a time:

  1. Good and Fast
  2. Fast and Cheap
  3. Good and Cheap

Whether it is the study of law, how to price freelance work, or project management, the laws are the same – you can only pick 2 at a time. One exception seems to be cooking, but only when I am not in the kitchen!

Let’s review these choices from the perspective of a craftsman who builds custom homes.

Take the first combination: “Good and Fast”. This is a great selection because you get great work done quickly. The craftsman who constructs a well-built custom home quickly will have decades of experience, having learned where he can take shortcuts that will not  affect the quality of the finished product. This level of provider knows that the market will pay him a higher price, hence he is “Not Cheap”

We now move on to “Fast and Cheap”. In this case, your custom home is put together quickly and for a lower cost. Quality workmanship for something as complex as a custom home cannot be rushed, and experienced craftsman know this. When he cuts the wrong corners or does the bare minimum to complete the job, you don’t end up with “Good” results.

Finally, we have “Good and Cheap”. In this case, you get a nice custom-built home but at a lower cost than the market drives. This means the craftsman will work on the home as time allows, allocating his scarce (and high-priced) time to other projects that will pay him more. You get your great home at a cheaper cost, but it will take a lot longer to get it done.

The bottom line: Good, Fast or Cheap: Pick 2. Do not try to fight it. The laws of physics will not allow you to win. The earlier you realize this in life, the easier it becomes to make decisions because you understand what you are giving up in your final choice.