Monthly Archives: January 2012

Do You Expand Domestically or Off-Shore? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company is rapidly expanding and is considering the pros and cons of domestic versus off-shore expansion. One of the appeals of off-shore expansion is the availability of good talent at lower costs overseas. However there are appealing counterarguments for domestic expansion. What is your experience, and how would you advise this CEO?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a challenging question. Based on others’ experience, success off-shoring depends on your ability to be disciplined and rigid in your design specs. If this is the case, then off-shoring can work. However, if either you or the partner changes the spec then delays and difficulties result. You have to make sure that the off-shore labor force possesses the skills that you require to successfully complete your projects and that your specs are sufficiently detailed to overcome challenges of language and understanding of usability.
    • Tightly specify each job that you want to have done off-shore, and develop performance metrics so that shortfalls will become obvious quickly.
    • Some large technology companies operate off-shore centers not to save costs, but because they actually find better talent overseas. India and China are producing excellent engineers, and given the size of the populations, the top percentile of talent can product a large number of talented people.
  • Some companies contract through off-shore entities, and tightly integrate the work of off-shore and domestic engineers. This is a perk for the off-shore engineers and helps to produce value.
    • One large company sends US Indian employees to India for 2-years stints to oversee their Indian operations.
  • Maintain strict hiring policies for your off-shore operations. Some companies have encountered difficulties when the managers of off-shore entities hired relatives because of family ties as opposed to talent or qualifications.
  • Over the past five years, the differential in pay for off-shore and domestic talent has shrunk. A large number of companies have found that domestic talent is easier to manage and in many cases is more productive. Further, there are no language challenges and time zone differences make working with domestic talent easier.

Key Words: Expansion, Domestic, Off-shore, Talent, Cost, Design, Spec, Skills, Integration, Hiring, Policy, Language, Time Zone

How Can a Small Company Compete Against Bigs? Four Strategies

Interview with Sai Gundavelli, CEO, Solix Technologies

Situation: A company has top talent and a better technology solution. However their large competitors continue to compete by discrediting them – “nobody was every fired for choosing IBM!” How do you compete effectively against large incumbents?

Advice from Sai Gundavelli:

  • Invest in your product.
    • Work to attain best-of-breed status in your industry with a constant focus on and investment in building a great technology. Solix’s constant goal is to be the technology leader in information lifecycle management and Data Privacy.
    • Be organic and focus on integration, smooth operation and scalability. Build your system from the ground up. An organically designed solution where the pieces work seamlessly offers higher and more efficient performance.
  • Invest in alliances.
    • Solix continually invests in our partnerships, including our OEM relationship with Oracle Financial Services, and we have more such partnerships in the works that will help us expand our presence in the market. Partnerships increase your presence and visibility as you scale your own organization.
  • Focus your efforts.
    • We at Solix are 100% focused on our product, whereas our large competitors are juggling multiple priorities, like a juggler trying to keep a large number of balls in the air. While we are smaller, this allows us to more effectively focus our efforts without lots of conflicting priorities. We focus exclusively on information life cycle management and Data Privacy.
  •  Have others talk about you.
    • Solix’s answer to our competition is let our customers speak for us. We have many happy customers such as Honeywell, Duke Energy, American Tires, who are happy to participate in joint webinars and customer case studies. We work closely with them on the latest developments and direction and use their feedback to guide future product direction.

Key Words: Technology, Solution, SMB, Competition, Multinational, Incumbent, Product, Scalability, Flexibility, Alliance, Partnership, Focus, Specialize, Detail, Reference, Credibility

What Are Best Practices For Managing a Due Diligence Process? Six Suggestions

Situation: A family-owned business received an unsolicited letter of intent to purchase the company. The Board is split on sale of the company, but has agreed to allow due diligence. Only a few key employees are aware of the LOI. What are best practices for managing a due diligence process?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A due diligence process can be a major distraction. Put as short a fuse as you can on the due diligence process; insist that the information requested be limited in scope to essential materials to minimize distraction; and that the process not interfere with scheduled company commitments.
  • It is exceedingly difficult to hide reality from the troops. Good due diligence is incompatible with secrecy. Absent communication about the situation, if rumors develop at least a segment of employees will assume the worst leading to possible employee loss and erosion of leadership credibility.
  • It is better to explain the situation and put it in the best light. Here’s an example:
    • The company is not for sale but has received an unsolicited inquiry.
    • This is happening because the company is successful, is producing consistent value, and others appreciate our success.
    • Whatever happens, the company will continue as a going concern and if the company is sold, all efforts will be made to assure the retention and security of the employees.
  • Ideally, communicate this through a company-wide announcement, with video link to remote sites, and with the opportunity for employees to ask questions.
    • Brief all key managers in advance, with Q&A scripts to deliver a consistent message and address individual questions.
  • Strictly control the due diligence process.
    • Restrict direct contact with employees and, to the extent possible, with key customers.
    • Maintain your focus on the business – there is no guarantee of a sale.
    • Put retention packages in place for all key employees.
  • If the deal does not go through, assume that it will negatively impact company results for at least one quarter. Adjust your forecasts and incentive programs accordingly.

Key Words: Due Diligence, Purchase, Time Line, Distraction, Communication, Message, Coordinate, Q&A, Limit, Incentive, Retention Package

How Can You Use Web and Mobile Tech to Bridge Different Worlds?

Interview with Jason Langheier, MD, MPH, Founder and CEO, Zipongo

Situation: The Internet and social media provide opportunities to bridge seemingly distinct worlds through common interests. For example, grocery chains that sell healthy foods and health insurance companies might be brought together through a common interest in healthy eating habits. How can you use web and mobile technology to bridge these two worlds?

Advice from Jason Langheier:

  • Interests and industries which are at first glance distinct can be brought together using the power of the Internet and social media. For example, Let’s Move and the Partnership for a Healthy America have nudged national food retailers and grocers to improve the health of their offerings in an effort to fight childhood obesity. Success here can benefit health insurers because obesity leads to increased healthcare costs through its link to diabetes and other complications. The potential of subsidies from health insurers to promote and generate healthy food choices is interesting to food retailers, but requires new incentive and recommendation systems.
  • We want to help people harness their motivation to build lasting new eating and activity routines. We do this through rewards based commerce, supported by social networks and gamification to help reach one’s health goals. We focus on choices that people make in daily living like grocery and restaurant choices and physical activities. We highlight alternatives, create simple recommendations, and make it easy to act on those recommendations. We encourage repetition of positive choices through a feedback loop which is tailored to the individual.
  • Commitments made within a social network are more likely to stick than promises to self. We leverage existing social media networks and offer incentives for referring friends. Friends help friends make better choices by encouraging them to read labels and buy healthier foods at the moment of purchase.
  • It is important to keep the user interface simple, especially at first. Many of the most successful applications initially present simple yes-no choices. From a tracking standpoint, this also minimizes variables and improves data measurement. Featuring high contrast action buttons on our site also helps prompt decisions.  There is a sweet spot on a commerce site between presenting an overwhelming array of options, and too few choices – which we assess through A-B testing.  By starting simply and building complexity slowly we build a baseline control scenario, then vary choices simply off the baseline to improve results.
  • The entrepreneur seeking to truly achieve a social mission must plan for both the short and long-term. In the short-term, it is critical to build milestones which will demonstrate financial feasibility and sustainability for potential investors. However a long-term perspective is also essential, particularly when one is interested in long term behavioral and economic impact.

You can contact Jason Langheier at j@zipongo.com

Key Words: Internet, Social Media, Food, Insurance, Health, Common, Interest, Software, Bridge, Entrepreneur, Partnership for a Healthy America, Incentive, Tracking, Reward, Commitment, Behavior, Change, Friend, Simple

How Do You Ramp Back Up Following a Slowdown? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company is ramping back up following a two-year slowdown. During the slowdown employees were on reduced weeks versus historic 50+ hour weeks. When polled about resuming historic hours, several say that they say they don’t want to work more than 45 hours per week. What are best practices for ramping back up following a prolonged slowdown?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Communication is critical, particularly during times of change. Make sure that you clearly communicate the new situation, any change in direction that accompanies this, the need to readapt to the former schedule, and the benefits to the company and employees in terms of ongoing opportunity and employment.
  • If resumption of normal business includes any change in direction, add metrics and objectives that compliment the new direction. To ease the assumption of new roles and responsibilities, provide process check lists.
  • Provide more deadlines, and complement this with increased recognition and rewards.  Rewards do not necessarily mean money, particularly if your employees are knowledge workers who have to exercise critical judgment in their work.
  • Make sure that you are providing any training that employees need to move into new roles. Schedule training days on Fridays – but let those involved know that they are expected to get their regular week’s work done by Thursday evening.
  • During future slow periods, instead of cutting back hours for everyone, offer unpaid vacation to employee volunteers and keep everyone else working at normal capacity. This avoids forcing them to become accustomed to shorter hours at reduced pay.

Key Words: Slowdown, Resume, Work Hours, Adapt, Communication, Delegation, Change, Direction, Metrics, Objectives, Rewards, Training

How Do You Build Consistency and Reliability as You Scale Up? Three Keys

Interview with Greg Hartwell, CEO and Managing Director, Homecare California, Inc.

Situation: Fast growing companies find it difficult to manage consistency and reliability of service as they scale to their next level of growth. They need to systematize what works and leverage technology to enjoy the benefits of scale. How do you build consistency and reliability as you scale up?

Advice from Greg Hartwell:

  • Invest time and effort to build an experienced management team. As a small company building a new service delivery model, it is helpful for the founders to know all roles so that you have a sense of what’s needed for each role.
    • Be open to hiring people from other industries. This brings a fresh perspective and broadens the pool of talent. There’s value in industry experience, but attitude and cultural fit are key.
    • The split between tactical and strategic skills is 80 / 20. Basic skills are necessary, but specialized knowledge can be learned.
  • Institutionalize how you recruit, screen, hire, train and retain. How do you do it like Disney – attracting and hiring the best of the best?
    • Know your market and the personality of those who will excel. This greatly simplifies the screening process.
    • Work hard on training. Our customer-focus starts with our employees. We complement natural talent with training that focuses on soft skills, and on consistency and reliability of service.
    • Find great advisors who can help build a training and retention system that works for you.
    • Minimize turnover by compensating people well, and treating them even better. Build a culture of recognition and shared experience that emphasizes the importance of the team and its members.
  • Embrace technology which enhances your ability to scale.
    • Don’t wait for something bad to happen and then rush to fix it. Anticipate and prevent mishaps.
    • Leverage communication technologies to tighten the bond between client and provider agency. Provide added services that are valuable and affordable.
    • Hand-held device technology is developing rapidly. Leverage this to increase consistency and reliability of service, enhance case reporting, reduce human error, reduce the ratio of supervisors to caregivers, and increase productivity. Be at the head of your industry class!

You can contact Greg Hartwell at greg@homecarecal.com, www.homecare-california.com

Key Words: Fast, Growth, Consistency, Reliability, System, Technology, Benefit, Management, Requirement, Talent, Recruit, Hire, Train

How Do You Find Time to Do All The Right Things? Four Options

Situation: In a contracted service company, activity gets very busy at predictable intervals due to contract renewals. During these busy periods, either positive or negative surprises can make it difficult to handle the work load. What techniques have you developed to make sure that you find time to do all the right things?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at your renewal process and break it down. There may be some aspects of the process that require top staff attention and other aspects that are routine and can be handled without special training. For the latter tasks, cookbook the details so that you can use either your own or outside staff to complete them. This will start to open up more options.
  • You may want to stagger your renewal periods so that all of the renewals do not happen at the same time. If this is not possible, rank your current customers in terms of revenue volume and profitability. This enables you to shift focus from less profitable customers during crunch times.
  • As crunch periods are both periodic and predictable, bring in extra staff on a temporary or contractor basis during these times to help manage the load. You may even be able to work with a staffing agency to plan adding of additional personnel to help handle the load during crunch times.
  • In the current economy there are a number of highly talented individuals – retirees, spouses who work part time, individuals who are underemployed – who want or need to work but do not necessarily have to or want to work full time. During your slower periods offer training on your products and software to a group of people like this so that during the crunch times they can come in to assist the load.

Key Words: Service, Contract, Renewal, Process, Resources, Customer, Rank, Shift, Focus

How Does a B2B Company Learn B2C? Three Lessons

Interview with Ross Johnston, CEO, DiskCorp

Situation: A well-established B2B company is starting to work with B2C retailers. It is finding that both the internal and external perspectives of B2C companies are very different. How does a B2B company work differently with B2C companies?

Advice from Ross Johnston:

  • In the OEM market, manufacturers control all warranty obligations, have tightly controlled procedures for handling and tracking returned goods and are very focused on product quality and operational efficiency.
  • Leading B2C retailers have a very different perspective. Their focus is on the customer: on encouraging great customer experience and repeat customer visits. Products are sold to big box retailers without warranty, and the retailers provide their own warranty programs. This results in far more returns than for OEMs. Further, product is returned for a wide variety of reasons from failure to work as advertised to the customer simply changing their mind. There is also a wide range in how returned products are handled – from throwing them in the dumpster to returning undamaged items to stock, and few records are kept.
  • Our challenge is to help retailer and big box customers design, develop and implement recycling and cost recovery systems in our market. This means both developing procedures for the retailers and new channels to cost recovery markets.
    • First, they need processes to triage returned goods into broad categories: new or near new goods condition for resale; goods which require refurbishing or recycling; and goods for environmentally appropriate disposal.
    • Second, we have created a software tracking solution – a reverse logistics program – to track returned goods from receipt to their eventual disposition with full end-to-end P&L analysis. This can yield up to a 45% gross margin on returned goods which is shared with the retailer.
    • We develop additional processes that vary by retailer to help them handle the flow of returned goods.
    • We want to provide the retailer with an end-to-end operational platform that turns a cost center into a profit center and reduces long-term liability exposure that accompanies landfill disposal.

You can contact Ross Johnston at rjohnston@diskcorp.com

Key Words: B2B, B2C, OEM, Warranty, Procedures, Focus, Product, Customer, Return, Refurbish, Disposal, Process, Tracking

How Do You Land Your Next Big Customer? Six Suggestions

Situation: A small company wants to land one additional large account per quarter. They utilize an array of marketing activities but aren’t sure where to concentrate their efforts. From your experience, how do you identify and land your next big customer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Landing large accounts is more of a relationship game than a marketing game. Develop a list of targets. Determine who you want to approach as the key decision maker, and work your own network and those of friends to gain a personal introduction.
  • If you and your principal target customers have operations overseas try to develop relationships between your and their overseas managers. Social networks abroad can be more accessible than in the US.
  • If you plan to introduce a new product or service, ask current customers whether they know of anyone who might be interested. This can prompt their interest or get you a significant lead.
  • Once you identify potential targets, conduct third party surveys of their industries. These can yield valuable insights into your targets’ organization and needs and help you better position your offering.
  • If a target customer has multiple divisions, initiate a relationship with a single division first and then leverage this relationship to develop additional business across the company. A number of small companies have figured out how to do business with multiple divisions of a single large company.
  • Trade shows are underutilized by many companies. Schedule meetings with target contacts In advance of the show. Even a simple visit to their booth can lead to a significant meeting. If you have limited resources, simply register as an attendee and use the show to network with potential customers.

Key Words: SMB, Customer, Acquisition, Networking, Social, Relationship, Overseas, Operations, Survey, Trade Show