Have The Guts To Say No

If you love me
tell me you love me
don’t stab me man
– 50 Cent (High All The Time)

For some reason, many people seem to have been conditioned over time to choose tact over honesty. In both personal and business life this manifests itself as white lies, dropped e-mail threads, and ultimately, resentment. Why can’t we as a society be upfront with our thoughts and feelings? What is there lose?

Last week, I got an email from a friend talking about another entrepreneur: “[xyz knowledgeable entrepreneur] is totally unresponsive. To a point where I’ve written him off….all his friends believe the drop off is due to ego, he’s too good for people now”. Ugh, can you think of a worse insult for an entrepreneur (or for anyone)?

Like many of you I get a good amount of unsolicited requests, resumes and other small-asks. It’s annoying, sure, but I don’t ignore them, and usually send a polite “Sorry, but I can’t do this” response. No need to go through the rig-a-ma-roll of explaining the reasoning for your decision, just be direct and up-front. As adults, we should be accustomed to rejection (hell, entrepreneurs even more so) but I know for myself, and nearly everyone I know, hearing directly “no” is 100X better than being ignored, or worse, being lied to.

There are a million and one reasons why you may not want, or be able, to help someone. Have the decency and guts to close the loop and say what you think. We’ll be more productive, happy and successful for it.

Advertisements
Have The Guts To Say No

The 5 Dysfunctions Of a Team

Hate a liar more than I hate thief.
A thief is only after my salary
a liar is after my reality.

– 50 Cent (I’m A Hustler)

One of the lessons from school that has shaped my thinking about team building is the “5 Dysfunctions Of A Team” concept. It’s a powerful lens by which to view the culture you are building and something that I’m constantly reminded about. Here is the pyramid:

five-dysfunctions-pyramid

This obviously doesn’t require a lot of explanation. Suffice it to say that as you are building your team, or scaling it up, think a lot about how you baseline those relationships and nurture trust, encourage dissent, promote commitment all while keeping people accountable and humble.

Culture is the most important advantage a startup can have. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of that, something I learned the hard way. A long time ago I had this paper up in my office, when I setup my new office it’s getting its prominent spot back.

The 5 Dysfunctions Of a Team

Hacking A Better Travel Experience – Flights

We used to use umbrellas to face the bad weather
So now we travel first class to change the forecast

– Jay-Z

Our commercial aviation system is arguably one of the most complex logistics system ever created. It effectively standardizes the movement of > 1.5M people around the US every day.

Understandably a web of processes have developed to handle the massive volume of exceptions.  We’re not just talking about technology but cultural and business process ones as well. It is a perfect environment to exploit loopholes for personal gain. Over the years I’ve learned a few things about how to get what I want, here are my 8 favorite hacks:

  1. Politeness:  Airline employees are assaulted by an endless avalanche of BS from anxious customers. They develop what I like to call the “Bureaucrat Shield” which allows them to hide behind company policy instead of confronting customers. The truth is that airline employees, especially those outside of the US, have a large amount of flexibility. I’ve been put on other airlines to get somewhere faster, had airplanes held on the ground for me, given hotel rooms to stay overnight and received a ridiculous number of unwarranted upgrades. All based on the good graces of airline employees who I went out of my way to treat politely.

    It all comes down to being overly polite so that they realize you aren’t just another angry customer to be dealt with. Put on a big smile and use “sir”, “miss” and “maam” even when things are miserable. This is the best hack there is and if you use it you’ll find yourself hearing “I’m just not able to do that, it isn’t possible with our system” far less often.

  2. Deal with people of the opposite sex: I find I get a better result when I deal with women than men and I’ve heard the opposite from my well traveled female friends. Smile, put on the charm, and if you think you can pull it off, flirt. If you are on a foreign flight, use their native tongue whenever possible, it is charming. Learning just “please” and “thank you” are not that hard.
  3. Never use face-to-face customer service: If something goes wrong you’ll end up in customer service purgatory. The face-to-face line is a disaster zone of waiting and heartache that you should avoid like the plague. Call the customer service phone number and use the frequent flier specific call-in number if you have it. I violated this rule last week and paid for it with an extra hour of waiting & an error ridden return ticket.
  4. Bring food with you: Airport food is full of fat and salt and will not help your body deal with the stress of flying. Bring healthy foods like fruits, wraps and granola bars. One of my favorite tricks is to grab a few of those small cereal boxes they have in hotel breakfasts and then get milk from the beverage service. If you are traveling to a different time zone, drink lots of water which will help your body recalibrate.
  5. Be specific about what you want: Airline employees aren’t usually creative, so tell them exactly what you want and in situations where a creative solution can be helpful, make your thoughts known. You want upgrades to first class, ask for them. You want them to put you in empty rows even if it is farther back in the plane, let them know. Willing to fly through a different city or take a layover in a cool city you’ve been wanting to visit, offer them those options.
  6. Use Tripit, Flightview & MobileDay: These apps will keep you organized and efficient on the road. Tripit organizes all of your travel logistics in one easy to view itinerary. Flightview keeps you updated on the status of your flight and any other flights you are waiting for. MobileDay gives you one-click dial-in for conference calls so you don’t need to memorize access codes when you are running between flights.
  7. Keep frequent flyer numbers in a note on your phone: I keep a password protected “wallet” note with frequent flyer numbers in it. Most of the younger readers probably already do this.
  8. Keep notes for the places you visit: Whenever I tell people where I’m going they inevitably tell me all the great off-the-beaten track places and things to do. I keep notes for each city on my phone and just take noties whenever I talk to people. You’ll also get a huge amount of information to share when people ask you about places you’ve been and things to do.

Have some priceless hacks, put them in the comments.

Hacking A Better Travel Experience – Flights

A small highly-motivated user base that loves your product is better than a massive uninterested one

He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks
-Sun Tzu (The Art of War)

I would rather command a company of Marines than a brigade of volunteers.
– Capt. John R.F. Tattnal

I’ve spent the last 7 months actively nurturing a community of greeting card artists into existence. Despite my “go big” entrepreneur mentality, it is clear to me now that going slower and developing a small highly-motivated core group of users was vital. Swinging for the fences right away and having a massive but uninterested user base shouldn’t be considered a success. The slow growth has allowed us to work with them personally and has endeared them to our cause. They tell their friends to buy from us, they actively recruit their favorite artists for us and they help each other through issues instead of requesting support.

The word of mouth that these users generate is incredible. A full 25% of all our traffic is new direct visits (people typing CardGnome.com into their browser after they are told about us) and 95% of our new artist acceptance has come from word-of-mouth referrals. They are starting to cost us less to support because they take the time to know the system better, and because they ask each other for support on our forums instead of emailing us.

They spend more, they cost us less to support, they recruit artists and they find us new customers. I don’t just view this in terms of economics, but they lower our cost of customer acquisition and increase our average lifetime value. If you are just starting, focus on making a few users extremely happy instead of spending money to acquire uninterested ones.

A small highly-motivated user base that loves your product is better than a massive uninterested one

A lesson in marketing from Jay-Z

Until I met Dre, the only one to look past, gave me a chance,
and I lit a fire up under his ass, helped him get back to the top,
every fan black that I got, was probably his in exchange
for every white fan that he’s got, like damn, we just swapped.

– Eminem (White America)

Over the past year I’ve started to really take an interest in the strategies companies use to distribute their product. One of my favorites is a sub-set of co-promotion that I’ll call the “Network of networks” strategy whereby a single product brings together a couple small but passionate groups. Rappers do this extremely well by featuring many artists into each song. Each artist comes with their own small but passionate group. Each group is strong within its own social network, but nothing on a macro-level, when they come together they can bring a product to its tipping point.

“Social” startups are trying to take advantage of this and are starting to make it work. This or That, for instance, runs contests where one networked group competes against another networked group. Each group feels compelled to mobilize their group to get votes and thus build a user base for the company.

The next time you sit down to think about your own strategy, think about how you can build this network effect into the model.

A lesson in marketing from Jay-Z

What Wikileaks can teach an entrepreneur

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Behind the divisive politics, pundit rampage and laugh-out loud diplomatic correspondence of the past month lies a few great lessons in strategy. Every unexpected or game-changing event must be looked at as an opportunity to revisit our objectives and further our interests. As with most things in life, attitude and resilience in the face of a shifting environment is what defines success.

The market is never in our control, the best we can do is understand its basic dynamics. When the environment changes, much like it did for diplomats following the leaks, calm determined actions are required. The US government knows it can’t stop Wikileaks, so while they developed new strategies in each region, they also acted like very publicly like they were in panic mode.

Startups often get caught in in reverence for honesty and openness and forget that business is a complex strategic game. Their is a time and place for openness, and also for deception. A startup by its very definition survives by the sheer disbelief of the establishment, quietly building market share and technology assets. Help them ignore you and believe you are a non-entity.

What Wikileaks can teach an entrepreneur

How the hell do I do that?

Most of the entrepreneurs I know have long to-do lists with “sticky” items that never seem to leave the list. It confounded me for weeks because at my previous job I was really good at completing tasks, prioritizing and executing methodically. Over the past 8 months I’ve found myself frequently tempted by low-hanging fruit and wooed away from completing high-priority tasks.

So of course, I asked myself what was going on. What I found is due to something I’ll call “Task Diversity.” Whereas at GE I was doing things I largely understood how to do or had sufficient direction, I now find myself doing many new and functionally disparate tasks each day. The new items are usually the sticky items because I don’t even know where to start, they sit there and fester while I sit there afraid to get started.

My to-do list has 3 columns (High/Medium/Low). Starting now the first thing I’ll do each morning and right after lunch will be to tackle a high value item. I’ll probably institute some other strategies as well. Any suggestions?

How the hell do I do that?