Was this in your business plan?

Progress

These two images were apparently both taken in St. Peter’s Square, one in 2005 when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, and the other in 2013 when Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis. Honestly, these pictures could have probably been the exact same in 2007 and 2012, meaning only a 5 year difference. Businesses frequently work on their 5 Year Plan, carefully charting out the future of their company’s efforts and finances.

So… was this in your business plan?

Look at how people receive information, share information, and process information today versus even a few years ago. The iPad will be 3 years old in April of this year. Let that sink in. Remember when everyone scoffed and said “It’s too big, too small, can’t make phone calls, and isn’t a computer.” How’s that working out for you?

Business planning is a necessary endeavor, on many levels, but it’s clear we see far too many businesses writing their plans out for the future and ensuring they do everything they can to stick to them, even following them right into bankruptcy. “But it’s the plan!” you can almost hear management cry out… Certainly companies (and people) should not chase every new opportunity just because it’s there (FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is equally detrimental as “sticking to the plan” in my opinion), but I watch many companies today completely ignoring the freight train of reality coming straight towards them. Kodak and Blockbuster (and perhaps Blackberry though there may still be a small chance for recovery/turnaround) are two great illustrations of the picture above being played out in reality and knocking these once dominant (even industry defining) companies out of existence.

And to the person in the foreground of this now widely circulated image, please do us all a favor, and stop taking pictures with your iPad. Thanks Tumblr.

*All image rights to their respective owners (Luca Bruno, Michael Sohn, AP, NBC). No copyright intended – this is just sharing*

Do something that matters.

Brent Beshore recently shared an article titled “The Hypocrisy in Silicon Valley’s Big Talk on Innovation” which challenges many out there talking about their hugely important projects and super sexy startups to remember that the newest timewasting app (or, let’s be honest, the 10,000th productivity app) may not be all that innovative, or all that important.

It’s an interesting article, particularly in the light of the current reality of many of the “hottest startups” in recent memory. Andrew Mason of Groupon was forced out of the company he started last month. Living Social is in dire straits (some may disagree, but their financials speak volumes). Remember when group couponing was going to revolutionize commerce? The insane valuations of investors crazy to pour money into a “sure thing” that was “innovative” beyond any doubts seems almost comical, in retrospect. One thing Groupon and Living Social have accomplished is a strong contribution to the race to the bottom on prices and quality many companies are locked into these days, destroying company and product value and consumer perspectives on what something is actually worth. Looking at Zynga, another innovative next big thing, tells a somewhat similar tale. Things aren’t going well, in terms of management (Founder forced renegotiations on equity promises when things were going well), stock price, or future. Even Zynga itself got caught up in other’s hype when it paid $180 million for Draw Something, an app that became hugely popular in a relatively short period of time. It’s taking a $100 million write down on that purchase. These are just a few examples. Certainly we’re seeing great things in innovation and tech these days (from Twitter and Square to Tesla and Shopify), but there is a continued fascination and obsession with a multitude of companies that seem highly talented at raising money and making noise rather than building real companies of true value. Why?

Real Work

For what little my opinion matters on the subject, I think it comes down to three things.

  1. Short sightedness. This is on behalf of both the investors and the entrepreneurs. The few stories we hear today of founders and investors cashing out for hundreds of millions after 3 years has poisoned people’s thought processes. Building something of real value takes a long time, great sacrifice, and more than most could ever imagine. If you’ve cashed out early for hundreds of millions, it was almost certainly a fluke. Since tech companies seem to be all the focus, let’s look at the ones we rely on the most: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung. These companies took years, even decades, to build and massive investments. There is no get rich quick. There is no build value quick. There is only hard work. Time will tell on Facebook’s real valuation (read: value). Right now, in pursuit of calming investors, they are making just about every single one of their users incredibly frustrated at every turn. Look at LinkedIn: once the ugly duckling of social media, they are the darling of the investor world today because they are creating real value and something people actually want and need. Twitter remains a toss up in my opinion – it is fundamentally the most transformative communication tool since the cell phone, but let’s see how they handle things moving forward.
  2. Tech. Tech isn’t a dirty word, but it is distorting perspectives on what is worthwhile and valuable. The ability to scale an app company quickly, reach millions, and quickly flip it for $180 million (see Draw Something) or $1 billion (see Instagram) has changed the way people pursue innovation, has changed the way investors look at risk and reward, and has changed the public’s perspective altogether. Look at Elon Musk with SpaceX and Tesla Motors. One man (supported by investors and an all star cast of employees, of course) is responsible for carrying the greatest nation on earth’s dream of space travel forward through his private sector efforts WHILE ALSO building the first real attempt at a viable electric car company. Most of the country laughs at him and says he’ll never make it. While many probably laughed at Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, monumental gains in demonstrating what is possible (computers, cell phones, satellites, the internet) should have us cheering for Elon and others like him rather than worshipping a photo filter app… For some reason, most aren’t.
  3. Distractions and Ease. The first two aren’t really the general population’s fault. They’re really more reserved for investors, entrepreneurs, and the media (particularly the startup media). We aren’t getting off that easy though. As Gary Vaynerchuk said, “Stop watching F-ing LOST” (I’m paraphrasing here and in full disclosure I absolutely loved LOST). Many people say how busy they are and how little time they have to a) do something that matters or b) do something they really want to do. I don’t need to quote any articles to point out how much time is spent wasted on Angry Birds, Social Media, or picking your latest filter. Sure, there’s a time and place for fun and social media is an amazing tool for business, communication, and maintaining friendships… but they’re also fantastic time wasters. Many people have lost sight of the big picture because they are focused on the very small screen right in front of them with flying birds that knock down pigs. People can get quite frustrated when their phone freezes or they lose service on a phone call. While this is indeed a frustrating experience, many forget the hundreds of billions of dollars and too many hours to count that went into creating computers, processors, cell phones, satellites, infrastructure, new forms of programming so on and so forth. The ease with which we live our lives, and the very entertaining distractions, have made most of us lose sight of what really matters and how hard it is to really build something of value.

I’m not trying to suggest that Mizzen+Main is a cure for cancer, or that we shouldn’t be excited and engage with fantastic tech developments. Not at all. I am all the more convinced, however, that we are on the right path to building something of real value, something that matters, and something that can have a very positive impact on our communities and our country. For a great perspective on our journey so far, please check out my brilliant cofounder’s thoughts on How to (Really) Found a Startup. It feels good to be getting our hands “dirty” (don’t worry we wash them before handling the fabric!), it truly is a labor of love. We’re building real products and aim to build something of true value.

In response to Brent, I said that companies need to aim for more than the next “hot app” while investors need to aim for more than a quick flip. Brent summed it up nicely: “Do stuff that matters”.

Please let me know what you think on Twitter @KevinSMU.

Get it done. Period.

Of all the things that have been most surprising in starting a business, I think the lack of interest in earning new business or retaining existing business I’ve experienced from a number of vendors has to take the top spot. It also makes me appreciate vendors, or companies I am a general customer of, who don’t just do the bare minimum, but go above and beyond. In a world of low-touch interactions and poor customer service, any business has an easy shot at standing out from all the rest. I came across this quote recently and was struck how many different ways it applies to being successful in business. It also reminded me of how much I love companies that I work with that I know will just get “it” done. Whatever it is. I know I can trust them to get it done.

Be A Good One

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” Abraham Lincoln

  • If you are starting out as an assistant, be the best assistant there is. You won’t be an assistant for long.
  • If you are in charge of new business, don’t let anything or anyone slip through the cracks or feel like they don’t matter. Trust me, you’ll be at the top of their mind anytime they have to make a decision related to your industry. If they can’t choose you for whatever reason, be it price, timing, etc., they will recommend you to their contacts or network. You won’t be in charge of new business for long, because everyone around you will see how much potential you have to get things done and get them done right. You’ll be in charge of all business, operations, or the company.
  • If you are a customer service representative, each customer should feel like once they call you, you will take care of their problems on your side of the fence. People are way too busy, all the time right now. If a customer calls you and says “I have a problem.” When they hang up, they should feel like 1) it’s resolved or 2) you will personally see to it that it is resolved.
  • If you are a sales representative, don’t make your clients or customers work to give you business. This should go without saying. If you make them work for you, you won’t be a sales representative long – you won’t have a job or, if you are the only representative, your business may fail. If you work your tail off for them, you won’t be a sales representative long – you’ll be in charges of sales, or the company, soon.

See a pattern?

I strongly encourage you read this article called the $4 Million Complaint Call. In a nutshell, one customer named Bob required an enormous amount of help with a software package, including basic training on how to use the computer itself. While some at the company encouraged the CEO to give up (“We can’t AFFORD to help him – just refund his money and move on”), he didn’t. Six months later, a call came in out of the blue with a new company requesting to standardize their systems on this company’s platform. How did they know they should select this company? Bob was brought on to their team a few months earlier – he said there was no one better to go with.

One final thought: things go wrong. All the time. If something can go wrong, it will. Maybe not now, but sometime soon. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t start cutting down people around you. Just get it done. Be the person that people want to have on their team, as a partner, as an employee, as a boss, or as a friend. People should know that if you’re involved, you are so good, whatever needs to get done, will.

Whatever you are, be a good one. Get things done. Period.

Everything else will fall into place.

Simple, but Significant

When I started this blog it was intended to be a forum for updates on business and life – and business and life have most certainly be going on at full speed. I also didn’t want to be another blog that compulsively updated without something meaningful to say. I see many people/blogs that feel compelled to push content, without necessity or quality. I think this poster below sums it up best, when it comes to this blog and what I am trying to build:

Make it simple, but significant.

In that vein, here is a simple, but significant update:

  • Mizzen+Main has made tremendous progress. After going back to the drawing board to make our moisture wicking, wrinkle free dress shirts that much better, we’ve done just that. We have substantially improved the cuffs and collars and made a number of design improvements to the shirts themselves.
  • We’ve taken our redesigned and improved shirts and released them in a beautiful Cornflower Blue and are releasing this weekend an Atlantic Blue Pinstripe and Pink Houndstooth. It’s an amazing feeling to see months of hard work result in such a tangible result.
  • Our first video will be debuted this weekend. The team at Slice Media did an unbelievable job of capturing what we are building – the next great American clothing company.
  • I received a thank you note from President George W. Bush. That was an incredibly significant moment in this journey.

GWBLetter

  • I come to understand more and more every day the blessing that it is to work with my two co-founders in building Mizzen+Main, Web Smith and Steven DeWitt. Their talents are overwhelming, and they are two fantastic gentlemen.
  • I have learned more in the last year, particularly the last six months, than I have in 4 years of college and 4 years of working.
  • I heard a quote when I started out on this journey – “Entrepreneurs are the only people who trade a steady paycheck and a 40 hour week for no money and an 80+hour week.” No sugarcoating, add to that investing your spouse, your savings, your emotions, your family, asking for stress 24/7, and asking others to participate on a roller coaster that could have seriously negative consequences for them, and you are beginning to see the picture. So am I.
  • The most significant lesson I have learned in terms of a daily impact on my actions and decisions (and something to keep in mind if you take this plunge yourself) – it’s nearly impossible to get things done on the timeframe, quality level, and price bracket you agree to with a vendor. There are exceptions (cherish those), but this is the rule. Should be done in 2 weeks? Allot 4. Sign off on a sample? Expect something to go wrong. Enter in thinking amount $ABC? Add $DE and perhaps $F into your budget for last minute changes, expedited shipping, and all the extras that will be necessary to complete your effort. A key element of this – people will take advantage of you, lie to you, or just steal from you. It’s reality.
  • Getting to spend the holidays with my family nearly six months into this journey was the most wonderful gift I could have asked for. I won the parent lottery, the sibling lottery, and my sibling’s choice of partner lottery.

IMG_1254

  • Of all the lotteries I won though, I know ultimately I won the wife lottery. To have someone as graceful, strong, understanding, and let’s be honest, beautiful, as Jen… I am one very, very lucky man.

JenAndKevin

 

 

 

Jumping from Space

This is singlehandedly the most amazing picture of 2012.

Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian expert skydiver (coolest title ever), jumped from the edge of outer space yesterday, and became the first person to break the speed of sound unassisted by mechanical force. It was just Felix and gravity.  He jumped from 24 miles above the earth’s surface and ended up falling at over 800 mph. The Red Bull Stratos project inspired the world yesterday.

Surely such a feat of human engineering was directed by NASA or the federal government. The entire thing was brought to you by… an energy drink? In what has now set the bar for the greatest marketing effort in history, Red Bull shot for the stars with this one (bad pun intended) and funded the entire mission, from research and preparation, to execution and broadcast. To say it paid off is a massive understatement. Companies today pay millions of dollars to broadcast or print advertisements for a few seconds that most people ignore. Over 8 million people around the world directly participated in the event – and had to make an effort to do so – that had Red Bull logos everywhere and reinforced Red Bull is more than a company or product, it is a lifestyle that you want to be a part of.  For a company with the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”, is there any better marketing stunt? Best of all, not one part of it felt forced.  It is a part of their DNA.  Can you imagine if Chevy did this? It wouldn’t feel authentic.

There are some great lessons that can be gleaned from this experience, for all companies, as Web Smith points out. While Red Bull spent a fortune on this, it was in such a pioneering way, the return on investment is far greater than an equal, or greater, sum spent elsewhere. They were also certain to prime the (worldwide) audience for a long time leading up to the event, ensuring maximum exposure. As tired of a cliche “think outside the box” is, imagine the conversation within the halls of Red Bull the day someone suggested having someone parachute from 24 miles above the earth to break the speed of sound unassisted. Most companies would have put that person in the “crazy” corner, or ignored him or her altogether.

My First TEDx Talk

What an absolute honor.

I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxSMU Hilltop in September. The theme of this year’s TEDxSMU is reThink.  I’ve dreamed for many years about speaking at a TED event, of any kind, and I finally feel like I have something worth sharing on such an amazing stage.

The idea I shared was simple: above money, power, connections, or even luck, what turns an idea into a reality is an unwillingness to accept no as an answer, from others, and perhaps more importantly, from yourself. I highlighted examples of amazing accomplishments in the face of a stream of naysayers and doubt, like Peter Thum’s Ethos Water and Fonderie 47 and Harvey Lacey’s Ubuntu Blox. I also talked about men who have pulled themselves out of incredibly difficult life circumstances and turned into titans of industry, such as Daymond John and Robert Herjavec. While I called these examples out to demonstrate known success stories, I also discussed the never ending hurdles I’ve faced in launching my own company, Mizzen+Main.

It has been nearly a year’s worth of work to bring Mizzen+Main to life, and we’re really only just starting. I have heard hundreds and hundreds of “no’s” – but it was never a question whether I would keep going. Please check out the talk below and let me know what you think by connecting with me on Twitter @KevinSMU.

Jen Blackman Lavelle: The Triathlete

My amazing wife, Jen, continues to be that much more amazing every day and inspire me on a daily basis.

While many people have a hard time in challenging situations, Jen is one of those people who thrives when challenged, personally and professionally, and seeks challenges out. Triathlons are grueling, both physically and mentally, but Jen couldn’t be happier out there training and competing.

Jen competed at the Stonebridge Playtri Triathlon this weekend in the sprint triathlon event.  She was out of the open water swim a full minute ahead of the next fastest woman and about 8 minutes faster than the average time in the event. Not only that, but she got out of the water looking fresh and ready to press on while everyone else seemed to get out thanking their lucky stars they survived the 750 meter open water swim!

Jen has been a swimmer her whole life.  Her parents incentivized her when she was young with ice cream.  The need for ice cream quickly faded, and she found herself swimming hours a day, improving and competing all the time. Before too long, she was at Highland Park High School and a 16 Time Texas State Champion. Continuing her career at SMU, she didn’t stop racking up awards and accolades:

  • Former American Record Holder (800 MR Freestyle)
  • 6 Time NCAA All-American
  • 2008 Olympic Trials Competitor
  • 2008 SMU Women’s Swimming Captain
  • 2008 US National Champion (400MR Freestyle)

I started out talking about Jen challenging herself, and clearly, she is a phenomenal swimmer, so what am I talking about here? Two weeks before her first ever triathlon, I was doing drills in the parking lot with Jen teaching her how to ride a bike. Seriously. I watched her topple over several times (she made me stand back and have her do it on her own, I’m not a bad husband, I promise!) Fast forward to this past weekend, and she won her age division and placed 5th overall in the triathlon! This is a woman who challenges herself… and will not take no for an answer, from others or herself.

Driving up to the race, I said (in the most reassuring voice possible) “Just finish – get your first triathlon under your belt.” When I told her twin sister my advice to Jen, she laughed saying “Right. Jen didn’t hear a word you said. She’ll win – just watch.”

And we did.

I’m so proud of my wife. This was her first race, and she’s only going to grow from here, never stopping when it comes to challenging herself.

A picture from the race this weekend – with Jen not only doing great on the bike, but smiling!