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The big ‘fat’ launch

The Big fat lunch1

Entrepreneurs know what it’s like to be in an environment that changes everyday, and sometimes every minute. To launch a product or service within your budget and on time can feel daunting. Then again, when has a daunting task deterred an entrepreneur?

What to Expect During a Launch:

Change is the only constant when it comes to the launch process. The team needs to be prepared to deal with ambiguity that cannot be predicted by even the best data. As the plan starts taking shape, a clear picture emerges, and that is when a roll out action strategy is created. The key to a successful launch lies in the way the launch manager tracks this roll out plan: meeting deadlines; staying within budget; seeing issues before they become problems; and changing tracks as needed.  In other words, ensuring that the entire process is seamless.
 Now that we know what to expect, what are the three things that must be done in order to have a successful launch?

Don’t assume you know everything about your audience:

In our frenzy to be unique and with the passionate belief that our product and service is going to change the face of the market, we tend to make assumptions about our target audience. This can hamper the success of the product. Know your customers — their likes, dislikes, needs.  Most importantly, know how your product will change their lives. Do not spend too much time analyzing the demographics data; try to understand their mindsets.  What drives them and does your product have the potential to be in the front of their minds?

Create the buzz:

For a typical launch, invites are sent a week before, but entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to launch their product via this traditional route. Before the launch, start having conversations with your community and your peers. Start utilizing social media to create excitement without putting a huge dent on your resources. By using the power of leverage you can get the word out faster, build your customer base more quickly and generate more revenue. Consider for a moment the employees, friends, family, customers, partners, investors, press and associations that you can reach out to – the people that can influence the success of your product launch. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth. One person talks to another, who will in turn talk to others and the word will spread. Give your audience something to talk about.

Post launch sustenance is more important than the launch itself: 

Once the product or service is launched, the team needs to work harder and faster to deliver results. Ensure that you answer all of your team’s questions. Organize your team in such a way that every query or problem is answered within one business day. Be open to criticism; not everybody may like what you have launched. Take it in stride and see if you can incorporate the feedback to make your product or service better.

Launching a product or service is not easy, but a calm mind coupled with someone on your team to drive accountability for the project can get you closer to the ‘dream’ launch that we each envision for our products and services!

Ready to launch your next project?

Not sure where to begin? Do you know what tools to use? How fast it needs to get done? Who your audience is? Join us Friday, May 30th at thinkspace in Redmond. We will meet at 12:00 pm to discuss the launch manager services that we offer here at thinkspace. Our panel of experts has insight and knowledge you will need to get your project management on track!

To join the event, click here.

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There Are No LEGO Instructions For Your Startup

emmitt-lego-movie-where-are-my-instructions

Emmett: What do I do? I don’t have my instructions!

I just saw LEGO The Movie. This movie successfully transported me back to my childhood but it also tossed me about in the now and future. It had a modern day nostalgic feel to it. For me, it did a great job showing life in a big company as well as in a startup. The big company was laughable. You know, lack of creativity and innovation. It was all about instructions, process and procedures. It’s a place where there are no original thoughts. In contrast, there’s Cloud Cuckoo Land a wonderful playground where anything you can imagine can exist. There are no rules, you can build whatever you want, you can do whatever you want. It’s just like a startup!

All of this reminded me about a book I recently finished called The Startup Owners Manual by Steve Blank. One concept that he focused on was “A Startup is Not a Smaller Version of a Large Company“.

In the past, I’ve questioned myself and my leadership abilities while running my company because of employees that have pressed to want organizational structure that resembles a large company. I believe that they thought that we were unorganized and chaotic. After having thought about this for a while, I think their expectation is that we would look more like a small version of a large company.

Big Company Employees Make Terrible Startup Employees

Employees who have only worked in big companies just don’t know any better. This is why most big company employees make terrible startup employees.

“Entrepreneurs who have run a startup know that startups are not small versions of big companies. Rather they are different in every possible way – from goals, to measurements, from employees to culture.” – Steve Blank

Everything in a startup is about launching, shipping, iterating as fast as you can before you run out of runway and money. Figuring out whether or not you have a minimum viable product MVP and whether or not you have Product Market Fit is so critical. If you can’t figure that part out there’s no reason to keep on pressing and investing in it.

Employees Might Feel Like They Are Getting Whiplash

When things are constantly changing direction, employees might feel like they are getting whiplash. Given this is startup culture, you might want to make sure you are hiring new employees for your company that can withstand this kind of fast pace work environment. Hire for these traits and characteristics:

  • Focus on outcomes, not process. You only create process when you are successfully getting specific outcomes, otherwise, you’re just creating speed bumps. For me it’s all about results. Once you get those results, rise, repeat.
  • Flexible, able to multitask, and change directions on dime. You’re going to pivot, what you started with is very rarely what you’re going to end up with. Enjoy the journey and embrace change.
  • Smart and curious. You need people that can figure things out and love to learn. You need smart people that are intellectually curious that don’t just check things off a list for the sake of getting on to the next task. There are no LEGO instructions for your startup.
  • Ideally, the best kind of person to work in a startup is one that has experience in a big company and has also run through a cycle in a startup too. With big company experience they know what it’s like to be a tiny little cog in a giant machine and follow the exact instructions. They will understand that as the company moves from startup to small company that additional systems and procedures will be necessary in order to scale. With experience in a startup they will appreciate the flexibility, have the skills to create, thrive without instruction, and not become “The Piece of Resistance“. When a person has both sets of experience they are able to grow with you and the company at it goes through its various stages.

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“Why Not Me?” – Russell Wilson

why-not-us-seahawks-russell-wilson

Why Not Us?

“I had a feeling we were going anyway.” – How’s that for unwavering belief coming from Russell Wilson when asked about making it to the Super Bowl. His father used to say to him, “Why not you” and he has translated that to “Why not us”. At 5’11” he’s the shortest quarterback. When it came to getting drafted in the NFL he was overlooked by so many teams because of his height except the Seahawks. He’s constantly had to prove all the doubters that he was capable of being a successful NFL quarterback. As an entrepreneur, is that any different as we set out on our journey to launch our startup? Don’t we all have that feeling and belief of “Why not me”? There’s always going to be investors that think you can’t do it, you can’t pull it off. The way I see it, for every Goliath comes a David.

“You have to have amnesia at this position”

As an entrepreneur, you have have to have amnesia too. “No matter how good things are going or how bad things are going, no matter what the circumstances are you just have to play one play at time”. As an entrepreneur we go up and down, many times within the same day. As a leader, you have to forget about some of the big mistakes that happen. After watching the Wilson interview when asked about his first play of fumbling the ball in the NFC Championship game, he said he didn’t even remember it until the press conference after the game. Amazing, the thing to learn there is focus and realizing that the mistake isn’t forever, it’s gone after the next play.

The Separation is in the Preparation

The work ethic that Russell Wilson has borders on maniacal. The no-nonsense approach that extends to every practice, every meeting, every study session. “You have to be a self-motivator in this world,” says Wilson. “That’s the number one thing that I am. I will always be the first one in and the last one to leave because I love the game”. You would never hear Russell Wilson make excuses and say “Sorry, I can’t do that — I have a life”. You think he runs around talking about “work life balance”?! That said, I bet he makes time for what is important to him. If I had to guess what that would be: It’s his faith, family, and winning the Super Bowl.

What I Admire About Russell Wilson

He’s not a tall guy for NFL quarterback standards. He’s humble. He expresses gratitude. His work ethic is unmatched. He knows he has to work harder than everyone else and he knows it’s going to pay off. His faith. You listen to him and he’s completely transparent about his faith and he’s a strong witness for Christ. Being in the spotlight and public eye he’s not afraid to talk about his faith as can be read in this article “Seattle Seahawks: Jesus more important than the Super Bowl“. That said, his goal is still to win the Super Bowl. He’s a leader. #GoHawks

You can view his interview after the NFC Championship game on the Seahawks Website.

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Humanizing Work

workplace2This past November, I attended a Humanizing Work conference in New York City.  Mark Crowley (well-known writer for Fast Company) gave a compelling and challenging talk regarding leadership in the workplace.   He commented that during the past few years, worker’s needs have changed, but their leaders have not.  This has resulted in workers being dissatisfied with their jobs.  And Crowley believes this is a leadership problem, not the worker’s problem.

As we welcome the New Year of 2014, as workers and leaders we must resolve to humanize our work.  What I mean by this is that as managers, we must listen to the needs of our workers.  And as workers, we must vocalize our needs to our managers.  Because the way you manage matters.  And the way you work also matters.

In his book, Lead From the Heart, Crowley lists the top five things that people look for in a job:

  1. to work for a company they respect
  2. to have a trustworthy and engaging boss that advocates for them and helps them with career growth
  3. variety in their position to make use of their talents
  4. to be valued and recognized
  5. the pay (this doesn’t rank hire than 5th anywhere in the world!)

If you want to humanize your workplace – simply look at your motives as well as what is motivating your workers.  It’s not as much about the  money as it is about believing in a common cause and respecting those around you.  May your 2014 involve more humanizing work than it does dehumanizing work.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Be thankful. The choice is yours.

thankfulThis past week, I was reminded by something that I heard at a conference almost a year ago now.  The speaker remarked: The key to unlocking your greatest happiness is thankfulness.

With another Thanksgiving coming and going, I’ve spent a lot thinking about how correlated those two things are – thankfulness and happiness.

Can you be happy if you aren’t thankful?  And can you be thankful if you aren’t happy about it?

Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness is a choice, but I believe that in making that choice, we become more happy than we were in the first place.

And here’s why I think that…
Happiness is usually an emotion from an outcome of an event (e.g. when the Huskies won the Apple Cup yesterday, I was happy!).
But thankfulness, on the other hand, is a choice.

So when your friend pays for your cup of coffee, you can either:
1) Say, “Thanks, I really appreciate that.”
2) Say, “Thanks” (but in your mind know that you deserve that cup of coffee because you paid for their coffee the last time).

The opposite of thankfulness is indebtedness or entitlement.

I deserve that cup of coffee (my morning mindset).
Versus
I am so grateful for this delicious cup of coffee (a choice of gratitude  I usually forgo).

So think about it…would you rather cultivate a spirit of indebtedness and entitlement, or a spirit of thankfulness?

Turns out, the choice is yours.

Don’t miss out on the parade.

paradeThe other day I was talking about my two nephews (ages 2 and 4) with my mom (age omitted at the request of my momma), and I asked her “Do you think that they will carry on their current personality into adulthood?”  My mom recalled that when I was a kid, I was extremely shy (not the case anymore), organized (still true), a leader (so people tell me), and a perfectionist (to a fault).  Then she reminded me of a story.

My six-year-old self had decided that us neighborhood kids should put on a parade.  I rounded up potential participants, came up with a theme, and delegated tasks to everyone.  After what seemed like days (but was probably only hours), the start time for the parade finally was upon us.  We were staged for our big moment.  I quickly arranged our group from tallest to shortest, and right before I gave the order to start parading down our street, something else occurred to me.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had swag items to be thrown to all the people that would be watching our parade?  I told the participants to hold off for one moment while I ran to my room, raided my candy stash, and started assembling parade-worthy treat bags.

But guess what happened?
A new leader emerged, and they had the parade without me.

And here’s the life lesson that I learned as a six year-old:
You can always make a good thing better.
But sometimes you just need to launch what you’ve worked hard to produce.

Don’t miss out on the parade.

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Work/Life Integration: Where Relationships are King

 

A famous African proverb states, “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” This proverb captures how important relationships are to getting things done. Relationships are at the core of all the activities that bring value to our work and our lives. Many times, relationships overlap in both areas. A colleague becomes a friend or a friend becomes a professional mentor. When we observe relationships integrating seamlessly between our work and our personal lives we have the opportunity to more effectively leverage the unlimited value that relationships offer in multiple areas of our lives.

As humans, we love to put everything into categories, yet relationships provide more value when they can remain fluid, flowing in and out of different areas of our lives. For example, today, I had breakfast with a guy who used to be my competitor. He’s now a friend, neighbor, and a client. He’s also given me valuable coaching on various aspects of my personal life. We are both one another’s customers. If I thought of my work and personal life as separate categories, I would have trouble figuring out which bucket to put him in. Would he be considered a customer or client? Or maybe I should view him as a friend and neighbor? Attempting to categorize our relationship into one of these buckets would actually limit the rich experience and expertise we bring to one another’s lives. Our relationship overlaps seamlessly in both professional and personal ways, which brings tremendous value to us in both areas.

Likewise, non-work settings can also be a source for cultivating valuable professional relationships. I attend bible study with a guy who happens to be the president of one of the largest private land holding companies in the country. As someone who curious about the trend of converting biomass into fuel, I immediately thought about my bible-study friend. Thanks to his expertise and experience in the land business, I bet he could offer insight into how to approach investing in this new technology. Again, if I siloed my friend into merely a Church friend, I would have missed out on the opportunity for us both to connect and benefit in a professional capacity. Chances are, you too belong to communities, groups, or participate in activities that offer many symbiotic friendships in both work and life.

The lesson here is that each person we meet in any setting, whether it be work or personal, provides us with the opportunity to add and take value regardless of whether we have clocked in or not.

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thinkspace Named Best 100 Companies to Work For by Seattle Business Magazine

seattles-best-100-companies-to-work-forWe were just named one of Seattle’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” by Seattle Business magazine. thinkspace was ranked 25 in the small company category, competing against hundreds of other companies in the Puget Sound area. It’s great to be chosen for this competitive award along with so many other notable companies. A big thank you to my employees for being a part of this company. I certainly enjoy working with smart people who really work well as a team.

The Soft Part is the Hard Part

2013-Best-Companies-logoOver five years ago, I wrote down that I was going to strive to have thinkspace listed as one of “Seattle’s Best Places to Work”. This award is a nice milestone as it marks setting a goal and achieving it. It actually means so much to me because it’s an award that comes from the employees of the company. It’s one thing to set revenue goals and hit them but controlling work place environment is a soft skill. Back during my Entrepreneurial Masters Program there was a lot of emphasis put on how the soft part (human interaction and work place culture) is the hard part.

Company Culture is Critical

For me, I want to come to work every day, laugh, have fun, and be excited about what I’m doing. I want to work around people that I like. Being in a small company and startup there are times where there is frustration with huge challenges and it literally can be a roller coaster within the same day. Small companies have huge challenges. You have to do amazing things with a small team where there is always more stuff to get done than seemingly resources to do it. To put time towards the things that we were judged on is not easy. The Seattle Business awards were judged on benefits, communication, corporate culture, hiring and retention, performance standards, responsibility and decision making, rewards and recognition, training and education, and work environment. As a small company and startup, who has time to focus on all those things?!

Best Way to Impact Workplace Culture

tinypulse-happiness-indexOver the last 12 months, the single best thing that we have done as a company that directly relates to us being named as one of the best companies to work for is implementing TINYpulse (<--my referral link). TINYpulse allows us to capture anonymous feedback from employees to reveal insights, trends, and opportunities to improve retention, culture, and results. Every week employees get a survey that asks a unique question like “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” 1 being extremely unhappy and about to quit – to 10 being extremely happy and jumping for joy. Each week I have no idea what the question will be or how will my team respond and reply. Each week I have to deal with being comfortable with something that makes me uncomfortable. The TINYpulse website says “Don’t try TINYpulse unless you’re a leader who’s committed to 1) Change; 2) Sharing; 3) Action”. TINYpulse has given me an opportunity to listen to the things that can be really tough to hear but allows me to take action. When you are open to receiving the feedback it can be truly transformational. Having a great place to work is not a once-a-year kind of event. For us it’s a weekly feedback loop.

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Maybe the grass IS greener on the other side…

grassPerhaps there is some truth to the saying “the grass is greener on the other side.”

We can always find greener grass than the grass we’re standing on.

But instead of getting caught up in comparison-mode, re-route your perspective back to yourself.

Pining for another person’s green “grass” (someone else’s life, career, marriage, etc) will work the opposite way you want it to.  Instead of focusing on the condition of your own grass, you’re wasting time wishing you had someone else’s.

Maybe the grass IS greener on the other side.
But, so what?
Instead of being jealous or threatened by greener grass, see it as an invitation to water the grass you’re standing on.  If someone has an amazing job, be inspired to lean in and set a goal to earn a promotion.  If someone has the “perfect marriage,” figure out ways to work on your own marriage (the #staymarried blog is a great resource).

The secret to a better life isn’t seeing how you size up to someone else’s life (and thank you Facebook for making this all-too-easy).  The secret to a better life is self-awareness…and knowing what fertilizer you need in order to be fruitful and productive.

 

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Can a woman have it all?

“You have a condition that usually only occurs in people over 60,” my doctor said as she typed in her lap top. “Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”

Hmmm, does she mean balancing the needs of my family, and my growing business?
Or does she mean the PTA meeting I skipped so I could meet a writing deadline?
By “stress” could she mean the lists that don’t get checked off, or the emails that don’t get opened, or the dog that doesn’t get walked?
Which stressful event was my doctor alluding to, and how could I answer “yes” without shouting, “Isn’t every working mother- are you crazy?!!”

“You know,” she continued, “You will probably get this again if you don’t do something about your stress level.”

Shingles. That’s what she diagnosed me with. Shingles is this terrible burning sensation that attacks the nerves underneath your skin until you eventually erupt into mischievous oozing bumps. Awesome. I’m a therapist. I preach self care. I believe in balance. I teach people how to take care of themselves. And I have a stress-related, immune deficiency condition that no 38 year old should get.

Wake up call.

Come-to-Jesus moment.

Time to take some things. Off. The. Plate.

So, when Marissa Mayer of Yahoo announced no more working from home, I paid attention. When Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg told American women to “Lean In”, I listened.  What are the women at the top saying about their positions, their work-life balance? What are they saying about their priorities? How do they balance it, and what are their secrets?

Turns out, they probably experience the same things I do (with the caveat of being paid just a tad bit more- wink).

Erin Callin, former CFO of Lehman Brothers before the crash, recounts in her New York Times piece this weekend that “Work always came first, before family, friends, and marriage- which ended just a few years later.” She goes on to say, “Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short… there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor.”

Though admired by many young women who see Mrs. Callin as a hero and an over-comer of the gender barrier, she is fraught with regret.

University of Michigan business professor Marina Whitman, a full-time professor and a corporate executive says in a recent CNN article by Todd Leopold, “I think this thing about ‘can women have it all?’ or ‘can’t they have it all?’ is kind of a silly argument. Yes, you may have it all, but not all at once.”

And what about Marissa Mayer banishing the working-from-home flexibility? She certainly has gotten a lot of back lash. Some of my working mother buddies say she ought to be ashamed of herself. But it has got me thinking that maybe “working from home” for the working mother, is just playing into the illusion that women really can have it all. That there is some ideal out there that a woman can be at home with her smiling contented children, while sitting at a desk with phone in hand, lap top open while climbing the corporate ladder. Maybe we’ve bought into the illusion that we “should” be able to do it all. Maybe we think, “if only my work schedule was ‘flexible’ then I could make that PTA meeting, I could take that work call while mixing the baby formula,” or in my case, I could schedule myself to being two places at one time and be half committed to both. Ugh.

So what did I learn from Shingles? Well, for one thing, I’m taking the Sabbath. I’m working my tail off Monday through Friday 8:30 to 3 until Sweet and Sassy get home from school. I’m shutting my lap top until they go to bed at night, and I’m wearing them out on Saturdays with chores, sports and lots of family fun. I schedule a date night with Mr. Dashing and make deposits into the marriage bank account. Come Sunday, I don’t return e-mail, I don’t write blogs, I don’t do anything that could remotely seem like work. I go to church, I go out to eat, and I read for FUN (not for work.) Then I try to catch up on some Duck Dynasty, which really puts me into relaxation mode, because I’m pretty sure they haven’t worked a day in their lives, unless you count catching bull frogs as work.

Everything has a price tag. Everything worthwhile requires sacrifice. Some of us choose work, some of us chose family, and then the crazy ones, like me choose to work out the balance of both. The sacrifices I make as a working mother are continual and on-going. The fact is, if I throw the soft ball with Sporty Spice, then I’m not going to get that blog post done. And if bring home work to do, I won’t be available to hear mini-Taylor Swift’s original song on the piano. What am I going to forfeit? What am I going to give up? Something has to go, which one will it be? I’m the last to cast a stone at working mothers’ choices. But I’m the first to say, life is about choices, and values, and about consciously making those choices according to your values. Could I be further along, higher on the ladder, with a broader following if I chose to spend more time at the office? And if I spent more time at work, would Sweet and Sassy be as well adjusted and fantastic as they are now? I wonder. We make choices, some good, some bad. But most times we don’t know they’re bad till we feel the pain of them. Like the pain of Shingles. I didn’t know I was burning at both ends until I actually felt the burning.

My prayer is that you won’t have to.

This  is a guest post written by  Michelle Hollomon.  Michelle is a Counselor and a Coach, author of God Unwrapped, and host of Relationship Coach Radio. You can find out more about her at MichelleHollomon.com.