Situation: An early stage software-as-a-service (SAAS) company notes that a number of companies have privacy statements on their web sites. Is this something that is common, and should they consider their own privacy statement on their site?
Advice from the CEOs:
If your services include the collection of users’ personally identifiable information many users will want to know that the information that they put on the site is secure. Get legal advice on the handling and storage of personally identifiable information. You may want to qualify for TRUSTe or a similar service.
Others will be competing in your space, or close to it. Look at these companies’ sites for what type of privacy statement they use.
Research how important this is to your target audience. Get assistance from someone who is good at drafting surveys. Hire a summer intern or local college student to conduct the survey. This is a quick way to answer your question.
Determine your business policy regarding privacy. If policy considerations dictate that you should have a statement, then find a model statement that you like and use this. Model a statement after one that appeals to you from another company. Make sure that you cover anything that you feel is important, and retain any prerogatives that you feel are important.
Create a link to a separate page that contains a model privacy statement. Count the number of clicks that it receives. You may find that nobody clicks on this.
Situation: A company goes through an annual strategic planning process followed by an annual business planning process. At mid-year they do a review and correction. The challenge is that if the company is behind plan, the management team does not take ownership of plan revisions – it becomes “the CEO’s Plan.” How do you gain commitment to revisions in the annual plan?
Advice from the CEOs:
Throw out your current process and start over.
The challenge is to gain more buy-in and accountability. This only comes if the targets come from those responsible for delivering them – both for the original plan and if any revisions need to be made.
Look at who you involve within the organization – can you drive involvement deeper to generate additional buy-in across the organization?
Hire an outside facilitator to guide you through the process instead of chairing the meeting yourself. This prevents the resulting plan from becoming “your” plan. It also changes the culture of the meeting as well as the buy-in.
If you use a bottom-up / top-down process, moderate the plan results with an eye to two realities:
Bottom-up input from the sales team is rarely more pessimistic than the CEO’s input. If it is ask what is happening.
Make sure that your top-down numbers are empirical and based on the best market research that you can obtain.
If your plans have consistently fallen short over recent years:
You may be baking the targets too high.
Consider building the revenue plan optimistically, but build the expense plan conservatively. This helps control expenses and attain profitability targets.
So that the two plans are not misaligned, review them more frequently – perhaps quarterly on a formal basis with monthly reviews – so that if your revenue plan is meeting targets you can adjust spending to support production and delivery.
It is common to have one set of numbers for sales and a different, more conservative, number for expenses. As long as you conduct frequent review and adjustment of the expense number to sales performance, this works. Many companies also use different targets for operations than what they present to the Board – with the more conservative numbers for the Board.
Situation: A consulting company has an employee who is a perfectionist. They can bill clients for standard work to complete a project to client specifications; however, this employee wants to continue working unbillable time to perfect the work and considers this to be of research benefit to the company. The CEO wants to impress the individual that the company is a business, not a research organization, without discouraging the employee’s enthusiasm for the work. How have you handled perfectionists within your own organization?
Advice from the CEOs:
If the employee possesses skills which are important to the company’s strategic direction it makes sense to work with the individual. One option is to focus this employee on future development rather than current projects.
An increasing number of companies allow employees in development positions 10% to 20% of their time to pursue pure research. Both product and software companies leverage employee enthusiasm to build their products or services. At the same time, they create guidelines to assure that the remaining 80% to 90% of these individuals’ time is devoted to current business.
Why not allow the employee one day per week to focus on research, but limit the focus on pure research to this one day – as well as any evenings and weekends that they want to devote to this on their own time? This way the individual is encouraged to pursue their ambitions, but within a framework that clearly states that we want 80% of your work week to be devoted to billable work.
Situation: A company is negotiating an agreement to resell another company’s software. In due diligence the company encountered a customer who was offered a single user license for the same software at one-third the price that they have been asked to pay upfront. What is the best way to approach the vendor for additional information without divulging the source of his intelligence? Does this change the negotiation?
Advice from the CEOs:
There is no need to divulge your information source. Just say that you have done some research and quote the price that you found. Ask them to explain this to you. See how they respond. This may tell you a lot about how they operate.
What rights do you receive under the arrangement that has been offered by the firm? What exclusivity and guarantees will they offer? Will they write these into the agreement? How will they handle direct inquiries?
Perform a careful financial analysis of the opportunity. Model the market and the full cost of sales that you will encounter. What is customer purchase behavior? Is it changing?
Counter the vendor’s offer to you with a pay-down option that pays the vendor more over time, but allows you access to the software without a substantial up-front payment. This limits your exposure if sales do not ramp as you anticipate.
Visit the vendor and sit down with the President. See how this individual responds to your questions. You may get a much better deal through this approach than through the sales team. You also may develop other partnership options that can benefit you long-term.
Key Words: Reseller, Agreement, Price, Software, Due Diligence, Negotiation, Research, Exclusivity, Guarantees, Direct Inquiry, Analysis, Customer, Behavior, Counter, Visit
Interview with E.J. Dieterle, President & CEO, YES Partners, Inc.
Situation: As corporate wallets start loosening up, companies are looking at market expansion opportunities. International expansion is one alternative. In the past this was done largely by sending Expats. In more recent years there has been a trend toward hiring locally. How do you find the right talent locally?
Everything starts with the basics – a good job description.
Finding people is easier these days with social networks like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, hi5, Spoke and Plaxo. However, finding the right people remains a challenge.
Invest time and effort to research your target market.
Which country is a market or has the most likely prospective clients?
What is your competitive advantage there?
For a hiring company without an existing presence in the local market it is also a challenge to convince good local candidates that yours is the right company to join. It is important to understand the local business culture and values, and also to offer career-paths to qualified candidates.
Don’t assume the need for multiple offices as you start. You can start with a highly mobile person working from home who knows the local language(s), customs, and who already has contacts in your target market.
It is often assumed that it takes one year or more for an Expat to be efficient locally, and that hiring locally often accelerates first years’ startup-time. However, the local person has to understand and “fit” into the corporate/head office culture.
Working with an international executive search firm to find qualified local talent with the right fit to your business and needs can greatly improve your odds of success.
Interview with Sandy Lawrence, Past CEO, Therative, Inc.
Situation: The technology sector is growing following a couple of lean years. Whether you want to fund a new company, or a new effort within a smaller company, what are the best avenues to capital? How has the game changed?
Funding and credit markets are opening but still tight. The bar has been raised because too many people are chasing too few available dollars.
The venture capital sector has consolidated. Over 80% of current focus is on technology, software and medical. Under 20% goes to the consumer sector.
It is important to target VCs who specialize in your technology, market and business model.
Research current VC portfolios.
Angels now act more like VCs – particularly structured angel groups.
Initial investments are typically under $1 million.
If you have a technology, investigate the grant world – e.g., NIH or DARPA. These organizations fund research, but not marketing, etc.
Look for specific programs or RFPs that align with your technology.
Target your grant request toward prototype development and studies.
Search LinkedIn for military people who can introduce you to contacts within programs like DARPA.
Investigate SBA Grants, and foundations with an interest in your technology or application.
Foundations sometimes will grant funds ($100k) to support the work of individual scientists and researchers.
Call on friends and family who believe in you and your work.
Whoever you approach, these rules apply:
Do your homework. Choose sources that align with your project and profile.
Presentations must be crisp and easily understood. Investing in professional assistance is wise.
Be able to make your case in 15 minutes or less. The first minutes are most crucial, so have your ‘elevator’ pitch perfected.
Your model and financials must support a high multiple exit, 5-10x their investment in a reasonable period of time (~5 years).
Team, Team, Team – credentials, experience, presentation – be a team with whom the investor can work.
Situation: IBM and others established the value of preaching FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) within their marketing campaigns – “choose IBM, the brand that you can depend on, because who knows what others will actually deliver.” Is it still worthwhile to use FUD, or are we better off emphasizing the positive benefits of our services and keeping our image positive?
Advice from the CEOs:
When considering whether it is better to sell the time that your system or product is “up” or the time that it is “not down,” you need to understand your customer’s perspective.
If they are cautious and skeptical, then FUD may work. If they are positive and upbeat, then they will more likely respond to a positive, upbeat message.
Match your marketing message to the attitude of the key decision makers within your customer companies. Learn their hot buttons during ambassadorial visits.
Companies sometimes use FUD when they sell “the future.”
Being “in”: if you haven’t got our product/service you won’t be with it!
Insurance companies sell protection from the unknown.
Mix the message. Sell the positives, with an appreciation of the cost of the negatives to reinforce the positives.
Be the “Mr. Goodwrench” of your marketplace. Educate and reinforce.
Consider positive health care analogies in your marketing:
Rapid Response – mimic messages from urgent care.
The value of maintenance programs – mimic messages from wellness programs.
Develop metrics to substantiate what your customers are hearing from your message.