The Character Conundrum

In business it’s rare to discuss character. It’s not tangible. It holds no cash value. It plays no part in budgetary meetings. It’s not bantered around at board meetings when discussing clients and suppliers. It’s not sexy like “scaling” the business. It’s not looked for in job interviews. It’s just not there – anymore. Character used to be a foundation of business. It’s the reason business was done with a handshake and not a twenty page operating agreement. Being a native Texan, it’s the reason Texans wanted to know you and your family before doing business with you. Character used to be a reigning principle of business.

It’s interesting that character is removed from so many business conversations; but, when we see the lack of it, character becomes a strong and fiery conversation. Over time in search of profits and shoring up the bottom line we have moved away from character as a business principle. We have removed it from HR when hiring – placing better stock in work experience, your college degree and HR data analytics, we have removed it from marketing – replacing it with automation and data and we have removed it from company culture – replacing it with quarterly sales goals and hustle. In reality, we have removed character from pretty much every aspect of business. Want an example? When was the last time you made a business decision based solely on the character of a person and not their intrinsic worth to you or your business.

What is character – true character? Some would say character is different from person to person and it’s as individual as the individual. That’s a wonderful theory; but, it would mean that character is not a foundational principle then – instead, it’s a moving target. As far back as time goes certain traits have been known to make up the principle of character and I’ve listed a number of them below.

Righteous – morally sound and virtuous
Good – kind and generous
Love – to hold others interests above their own without reward
Mercy – compassion, empathy and forgiveness
Grace – one that gives credit of others
Faithful and loyalty – to pledge steadfast duty and obligation and live up to their word
Truth – living through sincerity and honesty
Justice – fairness, equity and lawful abiding
Honor – respectful, living by integrity

How to spot character – In today’s chameleon world of social media and the “me-centric” mentality, it has become harder to spot character. I’ve thought long and hard about this, as I myself have been bamboozled by people I thought were character driven. First, actions over time speak louder than words. Second, close associations that a person has reflect importantly on a person’s character. Third, understanding a person’s true motivations (over time) define a person’s character.

Why we deny character as a business principle – It’s human nature to move away from things that show our own inner frailties and character is one of those forces we desire to replace with something else. When we work off character as a foundational principle, we hold ourselves and others to a higher standard than the status quo we are use to. Character makes decisions slower and sometimes harder because it forces us to think deeper about our business and business relationships beyond “scale,” the bottom line and individual motivations. What would your business look like today if every decision was made based on the character of the people or businesses you associated with versus strictly the bottom line? Would you be happier? Would you have greater efficiencies? Would your partnerships and relationships be stronger? Would doubt, worry and concern be alleviated a bit?

Why character is important in every business decision – Even though character may force us to evaluate our own individual motivations, may test our previous beliefs and may move us slower in our decision making process, character guides us to make better decisions. Decisions based on character allow us to be free from choosing things that do not match the “true character” traits. Decisions based on character provide us pure motivations – we are working off foundational principles not solely business principles (or worse yet, emotion). It makes our lives as business owners and operators easier. It holds all parties accountable to a higher standard. Imagine working with your clients / customers based on delivering character driven services or products versus only looking at the bottom line profit margin, the time spent on a project, etc. I understand business needs must be met and not every character driven person is a fit for your business; but, I will bet there is a character driven person out there that is.

What I find fascinating is how business mirrors our personal lives. As with business, we are seeing a breakdown of character across society. Character is being removed from our schools, family units, governmental leadership and in almost all facets of our lives. It’s time we take a stand and bring character back to the forefront both in business and in society. It’s time to be proactive in teaching and holding people accountable for their character.


The Lessons of Partnerships

Early on in my career as an entrepreneur one of my mentors, the epitome of the lone wolf entrepreneur, told me something that has stuck with me the past 20 years – “partnerships are like a marriage…without the benefits of good sex.” I think I’ve made every partnership mistake in the book and yes, partnerships can be worse than a bad marriage. I’ve been blessed and made the error of partnering with friends, family members and people I barely knew. I’ve had successes with partners, partners die unexpectedly, had bank accounts drained and have had credit cards run up like a high school girl shopping for prom. I’ve lived it all. You may ask the question “why keep going back to the same well if it seems poisoned?” It’s not a lack of individual confidence, it’s not for fear of going it alone; no, it’s my love of people and the challenge (and successes) that keeps me partnering with others. Whether it be a website hosting company, a mastermind / networking business, a real estate investment company, a vitamin supplement company, a consulting firm – I love the hunt and I love people.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way being in partnerships (some will sound rudimentary; but, how often do we as entrepreneurs forget the simple things) and how to tell when not to enter into a partnership or when the partnership has turned toxic. Hopefully, you can glean some nuggets of value from my past experiences (this list is in no particular order).

1. When each of the partners no longer brings separate strengths to the partnership (both partners exude the same strengths) there’s no need for a partnership. Become independent service providers to each other.
2. Partners must be reading from the same book, same chapter, same page, same sentence, same word. If you’re not on the same word, how can you arrive at the end of the journey together (hopefully a successful business sale).
3. Partners must be willing to sacrifice equally. No one partner can see themselves as “above tasks.” In a partnership, you must leave your ego at home.
4. Once primary character or trust is broken the partnership is doomed. Did a partner do something unscrupulous or not in line with the character of the other partner(s) or the business – the partnership is potentially on its way to failure unless intervention is made immediately.
5. You partner with your partner’s spouse or significant other. It’s just like a marriage.
6. Partnerships always work when things are good. It’s when the stuff hits the fan that a partnerships true value or weakness will shine through. As one of my good partners says “is your partner a “fox hole”person that will fight the battle to the end or will they cut and run?”
7. Make it official. Get everything in writing.
8. Have the money talk early. Percentages, where and how much money gets reinvested back into the business, expenses, sale of the business, valuation of each partner’s shares, etc.
9. Set expectations early for the partnership and your partner roles. Make sure to discuss personal future goals and direction as well.
10. Communicate regularly and openly. Again, like a marriage.
11. A partnership is not two people putting in 50% each to make 100%; it’s two people putting in 100% each to make 200% (like a marriage).
12. Know your strengths and weaknesses and your partner’s strengths and weaknesses before entering into a partnership. Discuss them openly before starting your partnership.
13. Play up to each of your strengths and don’t belittle your partner’s weaknesses. Be thankful that your partner brings their strengths to the partnership and vice versa.
14. Mistakes will be made, forgive quick and get back on the same page.
15. You’re both human – there will be times that one (or both) of you will need a break. This is when it becomes difficult. If you have kids, you know what I mean.
16. Philosophize often.
17. Before creating a partnership ask yourself “is the business relationship better off as independent service providers to each other versus direct partners?” If so, don’t partner.
18. Partners need to pay themselves first out of profits. If you don’t do this, personal money concerns with strain the partnership. It’s like the old investing adage “always pay yourself first.” Make sure there are guidelines in your operating agreement for payouts.
19. Don’t run up debt to get a partnership venture started. Partnerships are a tough go even on the best of days let alone adding the stress of being behind the eight ball of debt. I’ve found partnerships work better when bootstrapped and hard work and sweat equity build the business. It’s a slower process of growth; but, it builds the partnerships strength.
20. If your gut tells you not to go into a partnership – don’t.
21. Keep the personal drama at home or better yet, resolve your personal issues before entering into a partnership.
22. Know how the partnership will dissolve and make sure there is language in your operating agreement on how spouses and significant others are handled in case of a partner death – get a good operating agreement in place. Trust me, your partner’s spouse or significant other doesn’t want to be in business “or married” to you.
23. Set up the partnership with individual partner capital accounts. Start out with a great bookkeeper and CPA.
24. Get a mentor – for the partnership. An outsider can assist in keeping the partnership heading in the right direction and can mediate issues that might arise.

I’m sure I’ve missed some key elements of partnerships; but, these are some of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years.

I hope these insights have been of value in you determining if a partnership or the partnership you are in is right for you.


Know when to fold ’em

Every business has cycles. Since I have been in the business world (from way back in 1995), I’ve seen numerous cycles run through numerous industries. The industry I was heavily involved in, real estate, took a major hit in 2006 – 2007 with the real estate meltdown. Like many, I was involved in the dot-com bubble in 2000 – 2002, when dot-coms littered the barren stock market landscape. I watched the web hosting industry meltdown in 2008 – 2010. Now I’m watching as we are in the midst of the large ad / marketing agency meltdown.

Here are a few indicators I’ve noticed when an industry is reaching meltdown status (these are in no particular order):
1. Everyone is talking about the industry and are all “experts” – When the waiter at your local restaurant asks if you’re “in” bitcoin, you know it’s time to exit. When someone tells you their brother’s cousin’s uncle’s girlfriend’s boyfriend is a consultant in the field you are in and they mention that the person they knew just wanted to “jump” into the industry; but, had no experience – it’s time to start evaluating.

2. Market indicators – When the real estate market was reaching the first stage of meltdown, the signs where apparent if you knew where to look. First, home builders were decreasing their land purchases dramatically due to the land inventory they had on hand and the fact that the price per acre for land was exorbitant. Second, every sub-par piece of property was being sold to office condo developers at top dollar with no slowdown in sight. Third, due to the high price of raw land, condo developers started renovating and flipping existing apartment projects as condo developments and the inventory of condos spiked as interest from buyers started to wain.

3. When the race to zero has been won – This happened to the web hosting / domain registration business in 2008 – 2010. Everyone jumped into the business reselling shared web hosting and domain registration services and the price point dropped faster than a mafia snitch sinking to the bottom of the ocean with concrete shoes. Without differentiation between the service providers, the war for price was on. As the master, Seth Godin, says “But the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.”

4. The industry is becoming automated – Whether it be robots or AI, an industry’s death knell is being rung when you see the human element being removed from the industry. The auto industry is a clear sign of automation killing a workforce. We are seeing this take place right now in automated marketing, robotraders, blockchain, etc.

5. The mass exodus – We are seeing it clearly now in the marketing agency world. Agencies are shrinking, as many businesses no longer want to pay exorbitant agency service rates. With the advent of Fiverr, Upwork, Guru and other freelance websites, you can see the trend moving to freelance project work in the industry. The big agencies are fed by the larger corporations; but, the smaller marketing firms are becoming more lean and mean and are learning to keep costs down for their clients based on efficiencies and the new resources of freelancers.

6. When you are no longer needed – Sometimes industries just go away. Just look at the horse and buggy. Days before the first car was to roll off the assembly line someone bought 10 new horses for their horse and buggy business.

7. When your business is a trend or fad – Whether it be a certain fad or hot trend, know that these businesses cycle often. There is money to be made in these types of businesses; but, just be aware that the business will go as fast as it came. Be prepared for the switch before the market turns on you (and your stocked inventory). You will start to notice some of the other points / factors inside this article and that is the signal to start looking for the next opportunity. I’ve known many successful entrepreneurs that specialize in capitalizing on trends. One prime example was fidget spinners – a ton of money was made in that fad; you only had to see the trend coming and jump on the trend when it started or before it reached the tipping point.

The benefits of “knowing when to fold them” is when you are the innovator tipping a market by creating the industry automation, building businesses on employing the freelance mass exodus, developing the next business that takes down the status quo industry (UBER to the taxi cab), can see trends coming well before they are enjoyed by the masses, develop the system that forces the race to zero and can capitalize on the low price model, can see when market indicators are starting to turn from bad to good and jump into the business / investment or just plain “knowing when to fold them” to move on to a better opportunity.


Vision Board? Really?

Just the other day I had someone ask if I had a vision board. It got me thinking – wow, have we really cycled back around to late 70’s early 80’s motivational tactics? Don’t get me wrong, I get the power of a vision board; but, is it really powerful without knowing your “why?” I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a vision board. Not that I have no vision, it’s just that the vision I have is something that doesn’t pin up nice and neat on a cork board next to my iMac.

I did an exercise and Googled “vision board” and I got a bit sick to my stomach. The reason for my stomach turning event was that almost all the vision boards were centered on self (and material things) and few were focused on others. After seeing the volume of vision boards online, I asked myself – “Do I need a vision board? Am I the only businessman that doesn’t have a vision board?” Then it struck me. I have something way more powerful than a vision board – I have a gratitude list. In the “me-centric” world we live in where Madison Avenue has promoted the concept of “me first,” I realized that my gratitude list is way more important and powerful than a self centered vision board. The reason, my gratitude list contains all the things I’ve been blessed with, not things I am striving to obtain. The Googling exercise got me thinking even deeper about the subject and I came to an even stronger epiphany – the items on my gratitude list are real and valuable intangibles; they are the things I value the most in my life and make me who I am (unlike the Ferrari or mansion on a vision board I would “wish for”).

An example of the “gratitude list mindset” at work came from the most unlikely of places. Recently, at one of the IGNITE Development Group meetings I attend, we were trying to find a way to measure the value of the group and how it was affecting the Members and their businesses in a positive way. We looked at other business development / networking groups and saw many of them using value measurements based on what was given, not on what was received. Through the input of the IGNITE Members our W.I.C.S. (Wins, Ideas, Connections & Social Interactions) Value Board was created. The W.I.C.S. Value Board changed the “give to gain” paradigm considerably. Instead of the IGNITE Members stating what they gave (or were going to give) to another Member, they had to think about what they were grateful for FROM the Members of the group. I was in love with this concept instantly since it so closely mirrored the purpose of my gratitude list. In our trial run of the W.I.C.S. Value Board, we noted 36 tangible (monetary) and intangible measurements of gratitude between the Members – all of which took place in a matter of two weeks between our meetings. The Members were able to express their gratitude to other members rather than focus on themselves. It took some time for the Members to shift their mindset from ego-driven giver to grateful receiver.

Here is a partial look at my gratitude list. Notice how many of the things I’m grateful for are intangibles:

  • My loving and supportive wife
  • My beautiful, healthy, smart daughter
  • My amazingly supportive and caring parents
  • The blessing of having fiercely loyal friends
  • Waking up another day
  • My health
  • Having been blessed with a good education
  • Living in the United States
  • Living in the year 2017
  • Having food on my table
  • Having a roof over my head
  • Having clothes
  • The freedom and opportunity to do what makes me happy
  • Having the opportunity to serve others and make their lives better
  • The gift of being able to see how connecting others can grow into lifelong friendships and business opportunities
  • The blessing of amazing business colleagues
  • The blessing of loyal and trusted clients

Keep your vision board; but, I challenge you to create your gratitude list. Take some reflective time and ask yourself “What are the intangibles I am most grateful for?” Look at your gratitude list as much as you do your vision board (my gratitude list is the background on my computer) and you will start to realize that you may already have all that you need to consider yourself successful.

I can summarize this article with one quote from Ben Franklin “If you desire many things, many things will seem few.” Things come and go, but you can never have enough love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, self control and faithfulness.


The Blessing of Guidance

Yesterday I had an amazing blessing. To think that a young man about to turn 30 would come to my home office to ask for guidance was both humbling and scary. He is not your “average Joe.” No, he is charismatic, smart, driven, caring and searching. He, like many of us, reached the point where he was searching for deeper meaning in his business life; he was teetering on the moment when he was going to determine his true career path – corporate life or entrepreneur. He has all the potential to be an amazing entrepreneur and I know he will be.

It got me thinking last night before I went to bed – our successes are as individual to us as our motivations, our fears, our relationships, the trust we have in our creator (or lack thereof), our work ethic, our character, our timing, etc.

I have seen articles before on “what would I tell my younger self.” Each of those articles were a bit different as they were the self expression of the author’s journey into adulthood and what motivated them to build their individual life. After saying a prayer for guidance for my friend, I pondered “what would I tell my younger self” as my eyes shut heavily.

I awoke this morning and I was struck with this:

  • The fear you feel is unfounded and will pass with action
  • That feeling of being uncomfortable, that’s you growing
  • Money comes and money goes; but, real relationships stand the test of time
  • Lead with character
  • When they try to dash your dreams, it’s because they were too scared to pursue their own
  • Understand your true motivations
  • Give of yourself unconditionally
  • Remove ego from the equation
  • Find a purpose higher than self
  • Family always comes first – even in difficult business times
  • Do not worry about situations out of your control
  • In business there is a place for love no matter what they say
  • When it looks too good to be true it is
  • Your gut is your greatest guide – learn to listen to it
  • Never be the smartest person in the room
  • Make reserves for your health and well being – your health is worth more than that extra hour of work
  • The love you have for others genuinely reflects the love you have for yourself
  • Read
  • Learn
  • Listen
  • Reflect
  • Be gracious
  • Say “thank you” and “please”
  • Money is just the scorecard
  • The day you start building your legacy was yesterday – envision what you want to see in the rear view mirror of life today
  • Everyday is a new page in the story of your life – make sure you have written something amazing when the page turns
  • Time is a commodity that you will never get back
  • Smile more, negotiate less
  • Walk in others shoes
  • Forgive others and yourself quickly; but, learn from the situation
  • You are above no job
  • Don’t build a network of colleagues – build a network of friends
  • Put time and care into all you do
  • You cannot do it all so choose wisely
  • Others look to you for guidance whether you believe it or not. Be humble in your guidance and remember back to when you knew less than they do.
  • Sales is relationship building, not just techniques
  • There is no one right way
  • That thing you fear is where the greatest opportunity may lie
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Never let the creative and the critic in the same room at the same time
  • Ideas are worth nothing without a plan and action
  • Now is “that” moment

You may have read some of these before. I think that is true because in order to lead a successful, character driven life and be an entrepreneur requires overcoming obstacles and fears we all have in common; ego, fear of the unknown, motivations, time management, self sacrifice, etc.

Take some time today and ponder, “what would I tell my younger self?” If you are 30, what would you tell your 15 year old self or even your 21 year old self. It is amazing as we grow older and wiser that our individual truisms might change – that the realization that business was not everything comes into play.

May you find joy today in knowing that you have a bright future where one day you may have the opportunity of a young man or woman standing in your office asking you for guidance you would give your younger self.


Business Through a Child's Eyes

As a Dad who works from home, I sometimes have the opportunity of my seven year old daughter, Faith, being at home while I am working. The other day she made an observation that hit me deep “Dad, you don’t smile as much when you’re working.” It got me thinking that evening – what would business be like through the eyes of a seven year old. I thought back over the past three years on situations I have dealt with as an entrepreneur that closely mirrored those that Faith has dealt with at school. I came to the following conclusions:

Smile More, Negotiate Less

The comment about smiling was a tough one. Had I really become “that businessman?” The business equivalent of the old man that yells at the kids to get off his lawn. As I sat thinking about Faith’s comment, it hit me – as a seven year old, you don’t position yourself for opportunity; no, you just smile. It made me think about how as we get older our egos get more involved in our personality and we start positioning in things we do. Positioning in relationships, negotiations, content we write, phone conversations, emails, the texts we send, etc. I watch Faith in situations with her friends and outsiders, she just gleams that genuine smile and there is no need for positioning (other than when she wants the stuffed animal she just saw at Target). I think as entrepreneurs we need to start smiling more and negotiating less. Let’s build stronger relationships, like we did when we were kids in the schoolyard. We could’ve cared less back then how the email was written or how the text would be perceived – no, we thought about our friends, how we should be kind and work together through our differences in order to keep our friendships solid and we just smiled.

Pre-Tech

Faith always asks me “do you ever see the people you text and email?” I’m fortunate that many of my business colleagues are my best friends. But, even as much as I see many of my colleagues, my day is inundated with a fair number of impersonal emails and connection requests. I watch Faith as she heads to the playground and talks with the other kids. There is no need to break out the Google Calendar to schedule an introductory call. No, the conversation in sparked right there. Do you like Harry Potter? Oh, me too – do you want to be Harry or Ron? Off they go. I find that as I get older, technology has become a crutch for creating impersonal relationships. It’s the new “arm’s length” in arm’s length transaction. How many times have you opted for email to diffuse a situation versus a real conversation? When was the last time you called a colleague just to see how they were doing (let alone stop by their office)?

The Thirst For Knowledge

It’s amazing watching Faith at school. It’s another world being on the side of the parent as your child goes through their early learning years. What amazes me most is their constant thirst for knowledge. Kids are not “know it alls,” they are “learn it alls.” I can’t keep enough education heading Faith’s way. If learning was a fire hose, she would want it turned on full bore even if it was too much for her to handle. As we get older we seem to stop or slow down our learning. I think this comes from the fact that we stop listening. We become jaded that we have all the answers and discount those around us. I once had a fellow colleague ask me – are all those online courses and seminars really worth the time invested? My take is yes. If I learn just one thing that makes me a better businessman, better connector, better dad, better husband, better friend, it is worth it – plus, I like to stretch my brain. As kids we were sponges, as adults we become hardened like rocks not letting new ideas seep in. We need to get back to the days when we thirsted for knowledge.

Time Is On Your Side

As kids we never stopped trying or learning. I figure the reason why we never stop trying or learning was because we had no concept of time. Now, as adults many of us have the following concept of time – “If I spend time doing this, I won’t have time to do that.” Many would say time is not our ally. However, to a kid, time is all you have. For kids, they have all the time in the world to learn and try new things. When was the last time you saw a child trying to learn to walk and then give up and actually never walk because it was not worth their time? As adults, we look at time as sacrifices. Don’t get me wrong, understanding time and its value is important. It’s how we perceive time which is our greatest asset. As kids we did things we liked or challenged us – regardless of time. As adults, many times we do what is placed upon our shoulders by others and what is easiest or convenient out of our “respect” for time. We can have time to come up with new ideas, time to learn, time to connect and develop deeper meaningful relationships – as long as these are the things we are passionate about and make a priority.

Forgive & Forget

It’s hard to believe that at 6.5 years old, my daughter would be faced with her first bullying incident. We had to discuss why bullying happens, how to diffuse it and all the other conversations that lead to forgiveness and praying for the bully. One thing I learned is that kids are amazingly resilient and amazingly caring. The child that was bullying Faith ended up turning out to become one of Faith’s good friends. They worked out their issue and Faith not only forgave the child; but, continues to actively be engaged in their friendship. There was no grudge, there was no backlash; no, there was only forgiveness and future. As adults, we let our ego get the best of us and we decided that there is a “right” and a “wrong” and how could we be wrong? Instead of moving on, we bottle up the anger from the blow our ego took and do our best to take it out on the one that created the “offense.” A good way to live, no. Does this mean that after every conflict we will all be singing kumbaya? No. However, so much more could be accomplished in the business world if we just would forgive, forget and move on like we did when we were kids.

Strength In Numbers

Ever watch kids at the mall in the play area? It’s funny, it’s almost as if they are stronger in numbers than they are as individuals. I watch the bigger kids help the little ones up onto the big plastic toadstools (to the dismay of the little ones’ parents). I watch as girls go timidly into the mix of the kids and soon have new best friends (even if it’s just for that 30 minutes). As we get older I see a tendency to start isolating. I think this occurs as we don’t want others to see our inner turmoil or see our hurts, limitations and past experiences. We have a tendency to shut ourselves off to the one thing we need most – a support group. I watch as social media distances real relationships. I watch as fake personas (what my Dad always referred to as “the chameleon complex”) rear their ugly heads. What happened to going out, being ourselves and simply seeking friends (or business colleagues) that prop us up and we prop them up? What happened to building strong long term relationships that we say “will never go away?” What happened to helping the other guy up onto the toadstool?

Play Factor

Kids love to play, it’s just a fact of life. I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t love to play – give a kid a stick and it’s a sword or a magic wand. Give an adult a stick and they will throw it away with the rest of the yard scraps. It’s almost cruel in a sense that as we get older our bodies are less susceptible to play; but, as kids we played all the time. I find the hard part, as an adult, is making work fun and playful. We have to “adult” all day long; so, how can we create play at work?  As kids we used our imaginations, as adults we use our reasoning. I think it is time that we start using our imaginations again. Bring back new levels of fun in our work. Find a new play factor in what we are doing. Is it easy? No – we aren’t kids anymore. But, we can try.

Simple observations that I thought you might like. Does it sound naive – maybe. But remember, it worked for us as kids and we had fun at the same time. Next time you are confronted with a situation at the office, ask yourself “what would my seven year old self do?


Letting go to move on

There Frank Lopo and I were at Einsteins over a bagel and orange juice having a fantastic business philosophy conversation when we reached a topic many entrepreneurs find difficult to discuss. Both Frank and I agreed, it’s one of the hardest pills to swallow as a business owner – letting go to move on

We discussed bad business decisions in our past, putting trust in the wrong people, making poor decisions based on emotion and not based on fact and not trusting our gut when it screams – “Don’t do it!”

We kept coming back to the fact that after a poor decision was made, a business relationship was dissolved or a project was taken on that was not worth the money for the “price” we had to pay that the hardest part was moving on.

We discussed how part of not moving on is that it creates a crutch where we as entrepreneurs get a “break” by putting ourselves in a position of victimhood. Instead of washing our hands of our mistake, we relish in it to give ourselves time to heal from our wounds. Many times this reprieve becomes a form of quicksand that slowly pulls our internal morale to newer lows and we do not allow ourselves to rise above our quagmire and come out the other side more energized and ready for the next battle. Instead of falling off the trapeze, hitting the net and getting back up, we get comfortable on the net and make no motion to try again because it feels safe. We came to the conclusion that once the wound is licked, it’s time to suck it up and get back in the fight. My greatest mentor, my dad, always told me, “it’s not how hard you hit the mat from the initial blow – it’s how long or if you are going to get back up that defines your character.”

We discussed letting go of unresolved issues. Not every situation needs closure. It’s interesting how many entrepreneurs need closure. Many times it’s not for the sake of closure of the situation, but to satisfy our ego to prove that we are somehow “right.” In the meantime, as we plot, plan and scheme to wrap up an unresolved issue, we are blind to opportunities passing us by at the speed of light. We came to the conclusion that not all situations need a resolution, they need someone strong enough in character to know when to walk away.

Our last bit of the conversation revolved around understanding the importance of forgiving oneself and others. We both realized in our past that quickly forgiving ourselves was the key to greater opportunity. In situations where we “lived” in our past, we found that we replicated many of the ill wills we had already created (and were trying to move away from) or attracted others in similar bad situations. We also discussed how important it is to forgive others even if they don’t forgive us or provide us the reciprocation of understanding. It’s like the driver that cut you off this morning – it upsets your entire day; but, to the driver that cut you off, he has already moved on. To forgive is the first step in moving on. By forgiving ourselves and others, it opens our eyes, minds and hearts to new opportunities. We did come to the conclusion that an important part of forgiveness is learning from the situation that you had to deploy forgiveness in to better understand how not to place yourself in that situation again.

We will get many chances in our entrepreneurial adventures to make mistakes – and we will make them. When we learn to let go we can finally move on to bigger and better opportunities.


Beauty in its simplicity - a commercial actually worth watching

In a day and age where commercials proliferate the TV and web and good storytelling has gone the way of the dodo bird, it’s nice to see glimmers of hope that commercials can be used as a medium to not only promote a brand; but, tell a moving story.

It was over a beer with a colleague that I saw the Expedia commercial above. It was a crowded small local bar and the volume on the TV was barely audible over the happy hour revelers; but, the visuals stole my attention from my colleague deep in his conversation.

Not being able to hear the commercial peaked my interest even further. As we sipped the last few drops of our beers, said our goodbyes, I dashed to my truck to jump on my iPad and find the commercial I was so longing to hear.

Simple, powerful and breathtaking in its imagery, Expedia knocked it out of the park. As an avid storyteller, and as someone that loves to write about creative media, I was enthralled with the Expedia commercial. This is the life video should take for all brands - large and small.

Let’s take a look as to why this video is so powerful:
Instead of taking the obvious route for a travel commercial - a couple lounging on the beach, a family running around Disneyland in slow motion, Expedia decided to focus on the newer phenomena of socially conscious travel and follow a single individual on her life’s journey. The concept of starting with a young woman on a train listening to the ageless wisdom of her fellow passenger, her influencer, as he answers her unheard question is intriguing and thought provoking. We are captivated in the first 10 seconds by the unknown man’s voice and storytelling prowess. Another fascinating aspect of this commercial is the music. Most people do not realize; but, the music that intertwines with the visuals plays as much of a role as the visuals themselves.

Expedia going out on a limb was not afraid to journey into issues facing today’s generations head-on. In a matter of one minute, we move from excitement and joy to fear and concern and back again. All this while flashing through 20 - 30 years of the vibrant life of our main character. Who can’t remember that awkward kiss while on Spring Break, the fear and exhilaration of the unknown as we enter uncharted territory in our travels, the spark of new friendships. This commercial plays out more like a mini-documentary than a commercial; all the while, showing how Expedia can take us on our journey without forcing their brand down our throats.

Ending the story with the main character answering the unheard question from the beginning “what is the key?” is terrific as we have come full circle on the train where our character is now the influencer of the young man sitting across from her.

As a person that seeks out and interacts with a great deal of media, I can tell you that this commercial can have a profound affect on your business. How can you utilize Expedia’s marketing genius for your own business - even if we do not have a multi-million dollar budget?

1. Concept: When thinking of your business, do not always take the literal route. Instead of that “talking head” video, can a concept with deeper meaning and emotion be created. Expedia made a bold decision in moving away from the Disneyland going family and took the path less traveled. Instead of presenting bullet points about your service or product, think about how you can show your product or service from your customer’s vantage point. Can your product or service take on a life of its own? What if your product or service could speak about itself or tell its own story? What would it say? Can we focus more on the solution than the product or service itself?

2. Story / Scripting: We as humans are innate storytellers. We thrive on story. It’s what passes on our traditions, our beliefs and our culture. Why not remove the bland PowerPoint style video from your business and only focus on the power of your story. Like all good stories, we need a central character - our hero (it could be our customer, the product or even our business). Our hero needs a back story, to reach a point of struggle, a point of success, a point of resolution and a point of reflection or new state of being. Be creative in this process. Imagine your hero as Luke Skywalker or as Indiana Jones. Where does your story start? For Expedia, it was our young woman remembering back to the day she looked over her fence and saw a whole new world beyond her yard. Where does the story take the hero? Our young woman is journeying to Asia and explores the wonders of youth. Where did struggle come into play that needed to be overcome or resolved? Our young woman is confronted and challenged at the checkpoint when she sees a young man of her age holding a gun. What solution presents itself? Our young woman is no longer naive to the simplicity of youth and now takes on a new role as a volunteer. What does the solution provide our hero? She is older, wiser and world traveled. What is the reflection or new state of being? She is now in the role of the wise teacher and guide from the beginning of the story.

3. Visual Presentation: This is where most video media falls apart due to poor pre-production and lack of foresight as to how the visuals will prop up the story that is being told. The Expedia commercial nails the visual presentation squarely on the head. From the grandiose wide opening shot, to the amazingly well lit character shots, to the movement of the camera, this video is stunning. Here are some concepts you can use when you want to create a cinematic feel to video. First, always start with an establishing shot. In this video, that is the train and the sequence of our older gentleman talking with our hero. Notice at the :04 second mark how the camera shows the hair of our hero. This is not by accident, this is a setup shot to visually show the viewer that there are two people on the train conversing. Imagine that same shot without our hero’s hair? This sequence would be less impactful, as we now know that this is most likely a girl and she has red hair. Next we come to our flashback. We get a quick glimpse of our hero; but, we immediately start on her journey. As our hero’s journey continues, the video shots become faster paced always focusing on our hero and the external surroundings that will be affecting her on her journey. We also notice that the filming is a mix of hand held movement (without making us sea sick) and static camera views. There are a mix of shots throughout the video where we see the hero like we are an observer and shots where we are seeing the hero’s perspective (point of view (POV)). This constant shift of view allows us to deepen our sense of our hero and place us in her world. Finally, when we come back to the final train sequence, there is an interesting aspect that many will miss. If you watch closely, you will notice how the hero is still in her chair and she is answering the question of the young man that could very well be the older man from the beginning of the video telling the hero’s story. Subtle - yes. Powerful - definitely. Think differently about your business. How can it be visually represented without confining yourself to the four walls your business might be contained within. Can visual representation of your business be taken from a different point of view or a different perspective? How can you make your business visually stunning?

4. Music: The best videos allow music to compliment the visuals. In exceptional videos, music not only supports the video; but, moves the video along almost becoming indistinguishable from the video itself. In the Expedia video, the simple piano track provides motion to the video as it accelerates as the story builds, almost developing a sense of tension leading up to the finale. As the finale arrives, the music slows and the tone shifts to one of reflection and thoughtfulness. If you had to represent your business with music, what would it sound like? What type or form of music do you think your customers would hear your business as?

As we have seen with this Expedia commercial, your brand can be promoted through the use of intriguing concepts, powerful storytelling, awe inspiring visual presentation and emotionally charged music. Take into consideration these ideas when you consider your next video production.


The Grateful Index & The Nonprofit

I have had the great blessing to work with a number of nonprofits since starting Xpleo in 2006. Some have flourished and grown immensely, always keeping in their hearts their mission, the community they serve and the donors, sponsors and supporters (their "base") that are the lifeblood of their organizations. These are what I like to call high grateful index organizations (or high grateful index nonprofits). To give you a quick visual reference, I created the “Grateful Index” at the bottom of this post (please finish reading before scrolling to the bottom).

On the flip side, I have seen organizations that become complacent and expecting of their base. These are what I like to call low grateful index organizations (or low grateful index nonprofits).

You are probably asking, “why is this relevant to my nonprofit?” According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 Million nonprofits registered in the U.S. and that number is growing daily (Source: NCCS Business Master File 4/2016). Each of these organizations is vying for donors, sponsors and supporters. Each asking of their base to donate time, monies and resources. I have had the fortunate opportunity to work with both high grateful index nonprofits and low grateful index nonprofits over the past 11 years. The most stunning realization that I have seen through my consulting with nonprofits is that a growing number of organizations are slowly moving from the coveted high grateful index ranking to low grateful index ranking based on how they view their base. Many times, these organizations may not even know that they are slipping in their grateful index ranking. Most times, this is due to complacency inside the organization and the old “our base should support us - just because it’s the right thing to do” mentality. Let’s take a look further.

Low grateful index organizations look at their base as a resource to be tapped when needed, while high grateful factor organizations look at their base as the lifeblood of their organizations. This is a reason why donors, sponsors and supporters are called a nonprofit’s “base" - they are the foundation that supports the organization.

The difference between a low grateful index organization and a high grateful index organization can be glaring.

It is common to see low grateful index organizations viewing their base as merely dollars or time commitments. They use their base's time and monies ineffectively and must replenish them on a reoccurring basis, only to experience this cycle again and again. In these organizations, the relationships with their base tend to be shallow. Under most circumstances the relationships are regarded as important as long as the base is providing their money, time or other resources. Low grateful index organizations bleed every drop out of their base, many times tapping it dry until their very lifeblood leaves or gives up on the nonprofit due to lack of courtesy and respect. In nature an apple tree drops its apples and those apples that land on the ground nearest the tree trunk become the tree’s own natural fertilizer. A good apple farmer knows not to pick all the apples. To the contrary, some are left to fall to the ground to feed the tree, allowing the tree to naturally nourish itself. Much like an apple tree, an organization’s base's time and monies must be respected if these time and monies are to become the fertilizer for the organization’s growth.

In high grateful index organizations, their base is the most valuable part of the nonprofit. It is understood and recognized by high grateful index organizations that their base is giving valuable time and monies that they could otherwise be spending with their families, their businesses, elsewhere in the community or in other areas of their lives. I find that high grateful index nonprofits retain their base and actually achieve greater support, efforts, time and monetary donations when they recognize their base's devotion and commitment to their organization. Understandably, high grateful index organizations express honest and consistent appreciation to their base. This appreciation can be expressed with a simple verbal “thank you." More effectively gratitude can be expressed through a letter stating that the organization knows and recognizes that the base has other options for their time and monies and expresses how much the organization values the donor on a deep level, through sharing stories of how the donor has changed the community, through recognition by finding ways the organization can actually help the donor (a great example of this is for business donors and making introductions and networking connections) or through one of the many other ways gratitude can be expressed.

I have seen many low grateful index nonprofits burn their “resources” out continually. This leads to a persistent issue of having to find a new base or reinvent their messaging regularly to draw in a new base.

What are some telltale signs of where your organization may land on the grateful index scale?

  1. How often do you thank your donors, sponsors and supporters?
  2. How often do you share stories about how your donors, sponsors and supporters have affected the community you support?
  3. How often have you asked your donors, sponsors or supporters how you can help them?
  4. How often have you surveyed your donors, sponsors and supporters to find out how they feel about donating their time and monies to your organization?
  5. Have you ever had a professional provide pro-bono services to your organization to only then disappear after the engagement? Or worse, leave in disappointment feeling their time and energies were taken advantage of.
  6. How often are you having to “replenish” your donor, sponsor or supporter base?
  7. What is the longest running donor, sponsor or supporter of your organization? Have you asked them why they have been a supporter for so long? Do you know their family? Would you be able to pick them out in a crowd?
  8. How often are you cycling your staff members? Are they finding “better opportunities” elsewhere?
  9. When was the last time you connected one of your business donors to another business that might be a good fit for a future business relationship for that donor business?
  10. When was the last time you took a donor out to lunch or dinner (not your “Gala Event”)?

It’s human nature, everyone wants to be recognized for their efforts. Rise above the low grateful index organizations and see your base for what they really are - people giving of themselves and their families to support you and your community.

Oh, I almost forgot, this whole article also relates to interactions with customers of a for profit business and interpersonal relationships.


The "Rookie Mistake"

I heard someone in passing the other day talking about someone else's "rookie mistake." The more I thought on this concept, the more I realized a rookie mistake is pretty close to an oxymoron. To be a rookie, a person doesn't know any better as to what will work in a situation and what will not. To make a mistake implies that a person has faced a situation previously and failed. Rookies don't make rookie mistakes, they make "rookie learning experiences." The fear of "rookie mistakes" is the reason so many people never leave the bench to take their first at bat.