The Rise of the Free Agent Era and 5 Strategies to Survive It, Part 2

(This is part 2 of a 2-part series. Part one can be found here.)

3) Build Free Agent Skills

So what sort of skills are highly useful in this free-agent era?

Skills which maximize your ability to be independent – skills which can allow you to be highly mobile and flexible.

Here are three really strategic ones you can work on:

iknowkungfu

a) Learn How To Learn Real Fast

Two common realities of the free agent era: there’s always something new to learn, and you have to learn it fast. If you learn things fast, then you can work in vuitually any condition and won’t be a victim of obsolescense.

Adapt and live.

So don’t get married to a skill set (especially technical ones, which get obsolete fast). Learn how to acquire skills fast, especially the tricky personal ones, like negotiation, leading, and reading people. Read up on current trends in your industry of choice. Read books (I can’t recommend an Audible membership enough). Talk to experts and be conscious of your learning process.

b) Selling

selling

Here’s something which I think won’t change anytime soon:  people will buy stuff.

This is how every person, every company, survives.

If you know how to sell – yourself, your ideas, your products, your vision – then that is a HUGE advantage in the free agent world.

If you’re going to have to move UPWARD from company to company, if you’re going to be a great entrepreneur, if you’re going to be an awesome freelancer (really still an entrepreneur), then you’re going to have to get people to BUY what you have to offer.

There is an art and science on how to do this. (and a great amount of literature) Start learning now.

c) Networking

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Know-who trumps know-how.

I think this is a very obvious characteristic of all the highly successful people I know thriving in the free-agent era – they’ve built great personal networks.

A great network can act like a great parachute in the free agent world.

You got downsized? Good thing you know that HR Director who happened to have job openings.

Your new company is low on funds? Good thing you know a few investors who can give you a bit of help.

But a great network does so much more than be an insurance. I think its a crucial element for those who really want to thrive in the free agent era.

Looking at it from an entrepreneur’s lens, the free agent era is an era of humungous opportunity. The very elements which are disrupting big businesses are the very same elements creating great opportunity. There are SO many industries undergoing disruption.

The MORE people you know, the MORE information you garner about these opportunities, the more likely you can spot those which suit you.

Then you just pounce.

4) Build a Brand 

brand

Let’s say you have two people of exactly the same competency level vying for a marketing manager position.

One person has a marketing blog where he shares his thoughts on best practices regarding his job. He has an updated and comprehensive Linkedin account, and he is a member of several marketing-related groups.

If you google his name, the whole first page is filled with marketing stuff he’s written about and intelligent dialogues with peers.

The other person, meanwhile, isn’t so active. When you google his name, only a few entries come up.

Who do you think gets the job?

Think about it folks, every time you apply for something – a job, a co-founder role, a partnership, a contract – you WILL get googled and investigated.

Use this to your advantage. Build a brand around your strengths and interests.

I can’t tell you how much running this blog has helped me get into contact with several key people, or even get new clients to say they read my blog on sales meetings when I represent STORM.

In the free agent era, there are hundreds of people vying for the same things. Stand out by building your brand.

5) Get away from the herd

herd

I think this is the most important piece of advice in this post.

In case you haven’t noticed, the herd gets ultimately marginalized (a bit ironic if you think about it).

What do most graduates do?

They look for a job in corporate, most without even thinking what they truly want.

They look for the highest bidder.

They will spend 3-4 years and then move on to another firm, moving again in another 3-4 years. )This cycle is markedly faster in the BPO industry.)

Perhaps most are even unaware they are in this groupthink cycle.

Stop.

You want to standout?

Think and act differently.

Zig when the herd zags.

The free agent era rewards uniqueness and being special. Embrace what makes you special (yes, we each have unique God-given gifts which make us special) and get away from the herd. Don’t be afraid of the slight separation anxiety you might feel separating from the pack.

The free agent era obviously loves free agents. (and isn’t so nice to herds) So the best advice I can give in the free agent era?

Go and be one.

(Know anyone who would especially resonate with this post? Be a blessing and share!)

The Rise of the Free Agent Era and 5 Strategies to Survive It, Part 1

 

 

(This is the first of a 2-part post)
freeagent

When I was in college in the mid 90’s, I was still hearing the phrase, “employed for life” a bit.

This was when an employer could virtually guarantee an employee’s financial well-being from fresh-graduate to even beyond retirement.

Twenty to thirty-year careers were commonplace and a societal norm.

If you managed to be employed by say, San Miguel Beer in the 80’s, you were literally set.

All you had to do was to work hard, and the company would take care of you – for life!

When I graduated in the late 90’s, I think this sort of reality was already facing upheaval and was rapidly fading.

In 1998 (just as when I entered the job market – what great timing I had), the global financial crisis (and the first internet bubble) happened.

The desperation of firms to save costs, coupled with the latent internet technology base, resulted in the widespread adoption of outsourcing and offshoring – further pushing us into a brave, new global economy.

This new economy was (and is) marked by blazing technological advances – fueling revolutions which now occur at an alarming pace.

Bottom-line? We live in an era of unmitigated dynamism. Nothing can be forecasted with accuracy anymore.

When I graduated, companies were talking about 5-year, even 10-year plans. Nowadays, its almost folly to plan that far – because the newest revolution could just make your plan obsolete overnight (literally).

How does this sort of dynamism affect careers?

No employer wants to make a long-term commitment anymore.

“Employed for life” is extinct. (it now exists in typically very marginalized positions)

Like it or not, everyone is now a free agent.

Trust me, even if your employer says “we value and take care of you,” some global decision in Bucharest can lead to the dissolution of your department. Your company can merge with another and you can be declared redundant. Your company can decide to outsource your job to a crowdsourcing site the new marketing manager recommended to the COO.

You can work like a dog for years, do an awesome job, and STILL be out of a job.

You know I’m right about this – you probably KNOW people who have had this happen to them. (I can rattle 2 dozen names off very very easily)

So what do you do? Here are five strategies to live by.

1) Here’s what NOT to do – Float Aimlessly

lost at sea

If you ever take anything from this post, let it be this. The LAST thing you want is to just act like flotsam, riding it out where the waves take you. There is an infinitesimal chance you end up where you want to be if you don’t plan for it.

I spent the first 7-8 years of my career like flotsam.

I wanted to do marketing, but there were no marketing positions around (you know, during the 1998 global financial crisis). An HR job was presented to me. I took it and justified it in my mind while saying, “I like people, so I must like HR.”

My family got into financial trouble, forcing me to move companies and go to greener pastures. Then, to another greener pasture. Then after around 8 years, quarter life crisis rammed me at full throttle.

How can it be?! I’m not happy in HR!

This was when I started planning a startup where I could one day end up in.

DON’T wait around 8 years floating endlessly. Take your career planning seriously.

Start drafting a plan.

2) Aim for Ownership

owner

In corporate, we aim for positions. Throw this paradigm out the door. Aim and WORK for ownership.

I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to own equity in a firm that’s blessed with success: your equity earns passively, appreciates in value, and is a powerful source of motivation (you work harder for something you own). You can also be very flexible with it – you can hold on to it or sell it. You can never be fired. You get board votes.

How can a free agent make a firm loyal to him in this day and age?

Well, he can own part of it.

Be a company owner and develop a startup.

Want to stick it out in corporate? Insist on shares and equity rather than cash compensation.

(Watch out for the last three tips on the next post!)

Avoid These 5 Absolutely Crippling Startup Choices, Part 2

(This is part 2 of 2-part series. You can read part 1 here)

3) Reluctance to Get Down and Dirty

dirty

Take a gander at some of the Lean startup methodology books. There is a reason why this line of thinking has become quite severely influential for startups around the world.

The principles are quite sound: information and validation over guesswork and assumption.

Getting to that information? You have to talk to a lot of customers. You have to SYSTEMATICALLY do it in an unbiased manner. You have to do it over and over. You have to iterate your product over and over.

This is serious, rigorous work. You want success, as with anything worthwhile, you have to pay the piper.

But I think this pitfall goes beyond merely fulfilling lean requirements.

You have to want it.

You have to want it hard enough that you are willing to do the things you don’t want to do.

Programmers? You will have to do more than code and build. You have to talk to customers. Yes, you’re going to have to help LOOK for them. You have to RUN the firm, keep it afloat.

“Marketing” guys? You’re going to have to have to go through detailed product development. You’re going to have to set up internal processes.

Raise funds. Recruit. Corporate governance. Financials. Managing other founders. Managing investors. Customer service. Selling. Researching.

To any individual, one (or more likely, a bunch) of these tasks is just sheer torture to do.

Each of them can be extra-crucial at different times of a startup’s life. You’re going to have to suck it in and do them.

As a founder, you don’t have a boss, so you have the freedom to do what you want when you want. The temptation then is to just choose to work on the stuff you like.

I know a whole lot of startups that have quietly faded away because of this. Not for lack of talent. But a lack of want.

4) Choosing Optimism Over Realism

half full

I’ve heard or I myself have uttered the following phrases in the last eight years of startup work:

“He’ll come around.” (referring to a partner or employee not pulling his weight)

“Our funds will last.”

“We’ll land that client.”

As a startup founder, you NEED to be an optimist. I mean, that’s exactly what an entrepreneur is, right? Someone with a vision of the future. You can bet its a rosy picture that’s painted in the entrepreneur’s mind.

Ah, but here is the irony of it.

You also need to be a realist at the same time. (perhaps the better term is pessimist)

You have to assume the worst, and prepare for it.

I think as a people, we can be prone to being fatalistic (bahala na), sometimes just HOPING for the ideal scenario to magically appear, choosing to actively ignore the danger signs.

I know some entrepreneurs who ignored obvious warning signs, doing nothing about huge problem areas THEY KNOW are there, but for some reason, they choose not to directly confront. (a number of these perhaps have to do with another Filipino trait we need to overcome – being non-confrontational)

Are your funds looking like they might not last the next 3 months. Do something about it.

Having problems with a founder? It will not magically disappear. TALK to the person. If

A related tip here? You HAVE to be decisive. In a whole lot of startup scenarios, making ANY decision is so much better than INdecision.

5) No Compelling Vision

road-blur

This often stems from either of two reasons:

a) The idea isn’t compelling enough to be worth of a “vision”

Another milk tea wannabe.

An idea with no clear customer. (when you cannot explain who exactly will DESPERATELY want it)

An idea you’ve been pitching for 3 years that no one seems to want to bite at.

A small idea.

You know how to identify a good idea? It generates excitement. Energy. When you talk about it with people, you see eyes light up, and people throw around their own ideas on how to build on it. Then people begin asking “fishing” questions like, “So what are your plans with this idea? Where are you taking it?” (hoping you’d ask them to help out)

A bad idea tends to generate a lot of questions and pauses. It generates awkward moments when the person you talk to WANTS to get excited about your idea (you did talk to him about his idea), but is a lousy actor. They begin to ask you questions covering areas you ALREADY THOUGHT you explained like:

“Who is the target market again?”

“Why do think this will work again?”

(and usually, there’s a spattering of non-words thrown in, like “uhm” or “ahhh,” like “Uhm…who will be buying this product again? (waits for your answer) Ahhhh”)

On the other hand, a good idea is typically absorbed quickly by the listener. The listener also will tend to expand the subject matter by talking about how it can be applied to situations in HIS circle of influence, for example, “Hey, that’s a cool idea! And you know, aside from administrators, I think even the teachers I work with in school will just LOVE that.”

Don’t get married to an idea. Validate with people in the industry you are targeting. Allow people to build on your idea without getting defensive. (Huwag mong agawin yung idea ko!)

b) The CEO is not compelling enough

There is a HUGE advantage if your CEO is a great pitchman. What a great pitchman does is to sell the vision.

Steve Jobs was just AWESOME at this. In fact, people who work with him say he had a “reality distortion field” around him. You might be convinced of one thing before you talk to Steve, but after speaking to him, he’ll have you believe HIS vision instead.

Selling the vision is EXTREMELY important. You have to be compelling. Compelling enough that you get co-founders to go all-in with you. That you get the BEST employees. Compelling enough that potential clients will trust you enough to do business for you even if your startup hasn’t proven itself. Compelling enough that investors will part with their hard-earned money for you.

These are ESSENTIAL startup activities.

Even if you have a GREAT idea, if your delivery falters, then it almost doesn’t matter.

If you cannot COMMUNICATE a compelling vision, then the answer is simple: get another co-founder to be CEO. Don’t sabotage your startup and force yourself to play a part you know someone else can be better at.

(Do you know someone who will resonate with this post? Perhaps someone whom you know is cooking up a startup? Be a blessing and share!)

Avoid These 5 Absolutely Crippling Startup Choices, part 1

oops

Its a shame that most of the talks we find on startups and entrepreneurship center more on the successes. This is perfectly understandable – it is painful to talk about failures.

Yes, we say stuff like “it’s a badge,” and “failing is a necessity,” but you know, if one really poured her heart and soul into a startup and it fails – it can be a real heartache.

It’s a shame because there can be SO much to learn from those who have experienced failure, specifically, how to avoid certain decisions and tendencies.

I just realized I’ve just marked the fifth year anniversary of my startup leap a few weeks ago. It’s mind-boggling to consider that I’ve now been working full-time with startups for five years now (with 3 additional years part-time). In this time, I’ve now been involved directly with close to ten startups now (with varying degrees of success), plus coaching dozens more. I’ve made, seen, and experienced a lot of mistakes.

In particular, here are some pitfalls you drastically need to avoid when building your startup.

1) Selecting The WRONG Partners

square peg

I’ve belabored this point in this blog. It remains the single biggest reason for some of my own startup failures, and why I’ve seen some other startups fail. NEVER take this step for granted. Take the necessary time and effort to get to know potential partners before you get married to them by co-sharing equity. In particular, I’ve experienced two particular forms of erring partner selection:

A) Wrong fit

Remember the rule: get someone with COMPLEMENTARY skills and COMMON values. The first one is easy enough to filter: you have to have a keen idea of the level of the required skill in your mind and search relentlessly until you find someone who meets it. It’s the second one which takes time to decipher in a person. It’s also the second one that’s much harder to recover from.

B) Your startup is a second (or worse) priority

I remember having a killer team in TWO tech-related startups I started before. However, everyone had other things as their first priority (their own startups, full-time jobs), leaving the said startups as veritable orphans. Startups need committed people who will dedicate maximum time and effort in ensuring its viability. No matter how brilliant your startup team is, if ALL of them are working on it on a part-time and unfocused manner, your startup HAS NO CHANCE.

I think this is becoming a real problem in the Philippine startup scene as a number of people are diving headlong into doing simultaneous startups (without the great benefit of a successful FIRST one, read here).

Get someone who will focus SOLELY on your startup.

2) Selecting Too MANY Partners

too many

I remember my friend Ryan, who works in construction, tell me that there is an optimum number of people that can work on a given project.

I found this fascinating.

If you put MORE than the ideal number of workers on a construction project, things actually SLOW down because there is less accountability – people figure they can get away with not working that hard because other people can take up the slack.

I think this is true for startups as well.

I think 2-3 is the ideal number. 4 is a bit of a stretch. At 5 people, you can be sure 1-2 people are already slacking. If these 1-2 people are equal equity owners, then immediately, rifts can be created because the working founders will feel shortchanged (and rightly so).

This can be a temptation to beginner founders who can’t say no to the first talented person who butter them up and says their idea is awesome.

Resist. Stick to 2-3.

(Three more pitfalls to avoid, next!) 

Fast-Track Your Startup Dreams By Joining A Successful One

successfail

Learning From Failure Might be a Tad Overrated

By now, we’ve all heard a lot about how important it is to fail, how we need to start failing immediately – in a sense so we can find about what NOT to do the fastest way possible.

Of course, we’ve all seen this happen, so I’m not about to debate its veracity.

There might be an alternative though.

Instead of learning from failure, why not learn from success? Instead of concentrating on what NOT to do, why not focus on WHAT to do?

How can you do this as someone who wants to develop his own startup?

One way is to go join a successful one.

My Chikka Days

When I think about it now, my five-year stint in Chikka really fast-tracked my own startup career. I didn’t exactly realize it then, but it did. 
chikka
I remember the first few weeks I was in Chikka, and coming from 2 very “corporate” companies, it was quite the culture shock. No manager rooms. First-name basis with everyone. A disdain for anything “formal.” (I believe their term for it was “Ponstan.” Long story)

I loved it! It was certainly very different from what I was used to – and I found myself gravitating towards it.

The more time I spent in Chikka, the more interesting things I soaked up. I noticed how then-CEO Dennis Mendiola and then-COO Chito Bustamante worked. Dennis worked on products and strategy. He would do off-the-wall stuff like ask waiters for their opinion on a product during formal meetings. He would leave the execution to Chito – and boy, did he execute. I remember one director describe Chito’s execution style as suave. Chito had a way of getting things done.

As a company, I remember hitting deadlines I never thought we’d hit. We just sort of willed things to happen.

I remember the little traditions. Lechon during a founder’s birthday. Top ten lists during events.

I remember dreaming big.

I actually started conceptualizing STORM at the same time that I was interviewing for Chikka. In retrospect, I think this was awfully good timing. It was the best of both worlds – I was starting my startup part-time while learning from a very good one full-time.

The Advantages of Joining a Startup (specifically if your ultimate goal is to put one up)

1) Learning First-Hand

arn

I can read, say, Disciplined Entrepreneurship and learn all about startup execution. I can memorize the whole thing and still, it could never compare to seeing first-hand how Chito pushed Chikka in executing strategy. Seeing that day-to-day, seeing what it takes – was truly an eye-opening experience. I carried all these lesson with me in developing my own firms.

One caveat here – following this logic, you have to choose a successful one. The whole point is to learn WHAT to do before doing it yourself. This only happens if you join a startup with some degree of success. This can be a bit tricky. Joining a startup which is too early in the game might not give you the “winning” lessons you are seeking. On the other hand, joining a fairly seasoned one might not give you “startup” lessons anymore.

2) Supportive Founders (mostly)

One thing with founders of startups – a good chunk of them will be passionate proponents of entrepreneurship.

So if you ask them, “hey can I do a startup on the side while I work with you fulltime?”

As long as it isn’t a competing product and it doesn’t interfere with your job, I’m guessing a fair number will actually be supportive. This is very different from a number of bigger corporations whom I know frown upon part-time work.

3) Less Risk

less riskThis is a biggie. By definition, a successful startup can probably afford to give you a competitive/semi-competitive salary (in contrast, for a number of startups, salary might not even be a given).

The most common risk in joining a startup is that you sacrifice immediate practical considerations (salary, benefits, position) for future glory. In those first few months/years in running a startup the most important factor is your learning curve(the essence of lean startup thinking). How fast do you learn what the right things are (the right market, the right product, the right strategy).

By joining a startup, you essentially can have your cake and eat it as well: you get to learn loads without necessarily sacrificing practicality.

4) Internal Social Proof

For me, THIS was probably the biggie.

As a startup founder, what I constantly wrangled with was doubt.

Will this even work? Is what I’m doing stupid? Is this worth all the trouble?

Being in Chikka really helped in convincing me that hey, not only is it possible to develop a successful startup (especially back in the mid-2000’s when the startup ecosystem isn’t what it is now), but it is actually quite possible to build one which scales.

That psychological edge can sometimes be all the difference.

I’m Back!

imback

If I’m not mistaken, I think this has been the longest time that has elapsed that I haven’t written here.

(where I wasn’t sick or indisposed)

Apologies.

Given the rains, I actually had a lot of time to write, but I found myself spending a lot of time thinking and regrouping instead. Given all things I’ve been diving into and experiencing lately, I think I needed to take a step back.

Needless to say, we’ll be back to standard programming by tomorrow!

Enjoy the week!

Just Touch the Water

ripple

It still amazes me how so many of the largest companies in world started out as some crazy idea in someone’s head.

Then, these individuals began talking about it with another person. Perhaps Larry invited Sergey over for a coffee chat, perhaps Steve started an argument with Woz, Hewlett started brainstorming with Packard, Procter meets with Gamble for the first time, and so on.

As the idea is shared, it separates itself from one individual and takes on a life of its own.

Now, two or more people get excited about it.

More talks are scheduled. More energy is generated. Perhaps more people involved.

Then things get actually tried out.

Soon, papers get signed and boom, a company is borne!

This is a very, very familiar process for me…an idea surfaces between 2 or 3 people, excitement is generated, more meetings are arranged, research is done, things get moving, and soon, papers are signed.

Most startups are borne out of momentum. (sustaining it is an entirely different art)

But that first step is something I know is a barrier for some people.

You have to release your idea into the wild.

I know for a lot of people this is a very natural thing, but I also know that for a lot of people, this can be a very unnatural thing, like the shy kid getting ready to be called for orals.

It’s your idea after all, and to share it is to open yourself up to all sorts of imagined criticism and scorn.

If you have an idea though, an idea which you feel very strongly about, (the one which keeps you up at night) you CANNOT just let it remain stagnant in your head. You’re not doing anyone any favors, certainly not yourself.

You have to overcome.

TALK to people about it. What do your friends think? What do experts think? Heck, what do strangers think?

Go to startup events and talk about it. Talk to entrepreneurs in your field about it (entreps are mostly a helpful bunch)

I’d like to suggest JGL’s monthly open coffee 🙂

If you want to make any sort of ripple, you can’t be afraid of touching the water.

The Behemoths, Boutiques, and the Breakthroughs

Looking at the Philippine landscape, in a few years I think there will be two major types of firms here in the our country:

sumo

The Behemoth

They are already here, and they will grow even bigger.

I’ve recently pitched to a couple of BPO firms who project to number in the 50,000’s by next year. That is a mind-boggling number of people to manage.

Already, I feel for the would-be HR Heads of these firms.

I think this trend would just continue on the next few years.

Why?

Well, first of all I think the first world will continue to push even more work our way. We have seen this trend happen as more and more processes APART from voice support are gradually entrusted to BPO’s here. We are seeing analysis work done here. We are seeing processes further up the value chain get outsourced here.

In the Daniel Pink’s wondrous book: A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future, this trend is explained further. It’s a fascinating read.

Also, with the behemoths enjoying great economies of scale in an industry where margins can be thin, I think some contraction will happen where the bigger firms eat up the smaller ones.

The result? We shall typically see companies which number in the thousands (something which was pretty rare just a decade ago, now its commonplace), in the tens of thousands, and perhaps even in the hundreds of thousands – all in one country.

But BPO’s aren’t the only behemoths. Manufacturing firms, semiconductors, banks – these industries also have behemoths. You can see rather large, GROWING firms in these industries as well.

These companies will earn billions, pay employees pretty well, and pump a lot of dollars into our economy.

They will also be marked with very specific job descriptions, repetitive work, and politics.

Nope, contrary to common perception, it doesn't take much to start
Nope, contrary to common perception, it doesn’t take much to start

The Boutique

The other end of the spectrum is growing as well.

Freelance sites such as Elance and Freelancer are reporting record numbers of Filipino freelancers signing up for these sites.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipino freelancers.

Nowadays, a fresh graduate, skilled say, in programming or design can opt NOT to work for any firm and instead strike out on her own.

The number of startups are also growing, with the amount of venture capital available for investment now more available than ever before.

More and more people, wishing an alternative to corporate life and valuing the freedom, will take leaps.

Boutiques, employing any number of people between 1 person to say, around 50 people will continue to sprout.

These will earn around P500,000 – P50 million pesos per annum, fulfilling a specific niche, providing suitable livelihood for its owners.

Do you want to be a behemoth?

A good number of boutiques have dreams of becoming behemoths. It’s the typical startup dream right? You do a Google or a Facebook and employ thousands of people around the globe.

As a former HR guy who managed the workforce of companies ranging from 200-500 people, I DO NOT WANT the headache of managing thousands – especially if I want to manage them well. (A CEO friend of mine once told me once you reach 100 employees, it’s time to split the firm)

I once asked a friend of mine who has owned and operated a boutique ad agency, why don’t you expand?

He told me, “I’m making more than enough. Why complicate things?”

Some boutiques don’t want to be behemoths.

But there is an alternative.

Can you make a breakthrough?

Profit is equal to revenue minus cost.

The trick that so many people try to solve is: how do you increase revenue at an exponentially greater rate than the growth of your costs?

This is tougher than it sounds. If you sell a single product and create a profit margin, the best way for you to multiply your margin is to also manufacture MORE products – this is tantamount to more costs, more people, more complication.

This new information age is making this different though. There are now technology and outsourcing solutions which can help a firm be uber lean and mean. This is what I call the breakthrough company.

Take 37 Signals for example, global provider of enterprise/SME software. In 2012, they had THIRTY TWO employees (down from their 2011 count, at 34 employees). These guys make millions of dollars.

It applies not only to tech. For example, last week in a learning session,  I had the privilege of listening to Raymond Rufino, EVP of The Net Group, a real estate firm which builds and manages several buildings in the Fort Bonifacio area. Their operations involve eye-popping long numbers with a lot of zeroes. Raymond asked the small group, how many employees do you think we have?

“100?”

“200?”

“500?”

Raymond then replied, we have 24 people. (!)

Raymond then goes on to explain they do it by employing great people who multi-task and utilizing a good number of outsourced help.

I think this is the dream – to create behemoth results using boutique structure.

The tools are obvious: technology, a GREAT business model, awesome people, outsourcing.

Let’s buckle down and figure it out, eh?

Sometimes, Interest Can Trump Passion

idea

It’s probably THE MOST overused cliche in the entrepreneur world, right?

Find something you are passionate with!

You will never work a day again!

This is true of course. (which is why its a cliche)

I do think though that for some people, this gets in the way because people try to look for their passion in the SUBJECT of the idea, when sometimes, DEVELOPING A STARTUP itself is the passion.

There are a number of entrepreneurs now I talk to who I think face this dilemma.

“Peter, there are these ideas I have which are interesting and I think can make money, but I’m not really sure I’m SUPER passionate about. What I am REALLY passionate about are comic books and food, but I can’t really find an idea in those areas which I think can work yet.”

Look, finding a subject matter which you are really really passionate which CAN be transformed into a profitable venture is a tremendous blessing. It can also prove to be a time-consuming, frustrating endeavor, since a lot of times, the things we are passionate with just cannot be monetized.

But what if the very thing we are passionate with is entrepreneurship itself? Being the guy who calls the shots? Building something and working with people in building it?

If this is the case, then we can find something we are not necessarily passionate about yet, but are interested in. Something we can GROW to be passionate about.

In my case, when I started STORM, I wasn’t like, super passionate about flexible benefits. I didn’t have flexible benefit posters, think about flexible benefits when I woke up in the morning, or named any of my kids Flexter Cauton.

But I WAS interested in it enough that I could talk about it for long periods of time, or read a book about it, or go on the internet and research about it for long periods.

What I REALLY was passionate about is entrepreneurship, building teams, and leading them. These were the things which scratched my primordial existential itches.

So you know what? It worked. Many years after, work still doesn’t feel like work.

So yes, by all means, go search for a passion play. If you don’t find it, don’t fret. There’s a significant chance that you’re passionate about the general elements entrepreneurship itself. In this case, try an interest, something that you know you can GROW to be passionate about. INTEREST is still quite important, no matter how passionate I am about entrepreneurship, I doubt if I’d have enough interest to invest time and energy on say, construction, or fishing.

What’s the most important word in all these?

TRY.

 

Nine Book Reviews for the First Half of 2013

Haven’t done a book review in awhile!

I have plowed through more than a couple of good books (and some meh ones) over the course of the last few months.

Here’s are some quick recommendations:

1. The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin

As a big Seth Godin fan, this was the book I was drooling about in 2012. So much so that one of the first activities I did in 2013 was to read it. (it was released January 1)

I have to say – I was a bit disappointed (something I never would have imagined I would say for an SG book). The book is mainly about not being afraid to pursue your dreams. If I read it in a vacuum, I probably would have enjoyed and gotten more out of it. But coming from reading ALL of SG’s books, I found this one mostly retreads ideas from his other books. Moreover, his other books (namely, Tribes and Linchpin) were more focused than this one.

Recommendation: If you’re a Seth Godin fanatic, then I know you’re going to read this anyway. I think you’ll feel the same way I did. If you’re new to Godin and want to try one of his books out, I’d pass on this and pick up Linchpin, Tribes, or even We Are All Weird.  

2) The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman

The best book I’ve read for 2013 so far.

I have actually seen this in bestseller lists, but I’ve avoided it because of the title (not another “pocket MBA”). An entrepreneur highly recommended it to me though, and I gave it a shot.

I’m really glad I did.

The whole riveting first chapter about why NOT to go get an MBA is alone worth the price of  admission.

What the book does is it breaks business down into very simple parts and explains why you don’t need to look at business in a needlessly complex way. It’s an awesome, refreshing way to teach business.

Recommendation: if you are into business, no matter where you are in the spectrum (new, old, want, still in corporate) this is a MUST read. Buy NOW. 

3) Make Your Idea Matter, Bernadette Jiwa

This isn’t so much as a chaper-for-chapter book as it is some kind of guide / resource book. There are different topics – all on how to make your brand and your story better – arranged in self-contained 1-3 pagers (for example, “20 Ways To Tell a Better Brand Story”). I absolutely love formats like this, where you can just open the book anywhere and pick something up. When I finished the book (not a long read), I found myself yearning for more – a sign of great content.

Recommendation: Don’t let the title mislead you  – it’s not really an entrepreneurial-make your-idea-into-reality book. It is a good read / resource book, though, especially if you are in marketing/sales. 

4) The Lean Entrepreneur, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits

Just finished this a few days ago. I think it’s the best of the recent “Lean” books I’ve read (being Eric Ries’s Lean Startup and Ash Maurya’s Running Lean). To be fair though, this new book builds on the precepts established in the earlier books, so rather than saying its better than the previous books, perhaps its better to say they expand the knowledge base the other two books established.

What I think the book does a good job of is explaining the concepts well with real-life examples and analogies – which was a must considering “lean startup” could get to be pretty technical.

Recommendation: A must read especially if you are putting up a tech startup (although still very relevant for non-tech) Might be too technical to be a “first book” for a new entrepreneur. 

5) Warren Buffet’s Management Secrets, Mary Buffet and David Clark

I didn’t really know a lot about the “World’s Greatest Investor” so one day in a bookstore I thought I could remedy that by buying a random Warren Buffet book. Did I pick the wrong one. While the book has some fascinating anecdotes about Buffet, I think the book’s main points are quite unremarkable (pick passions, hire good people, don’t live beyond your means, etc…).

Plus, I still don’t know much about Warren Buffet.

Recommendation: Waste of time, if you’ve read ANY other general business book. Pass.

6) Start: Punching Fear in the Face escape average and do work that matter, Jon Acuff

Having enjoyed his previous book, Quitter. I went to Audible and bought his latest work, Start. (I love audiobooks which are read by the authors themselves).

It was an enjoyable “read” – the author writes with a lot of humor and I found myself laughing out loud a couple of times while I listened to the audio during my morning walks.

What did I learn from it? Unfortunately, nothing much when I think about it. The content becomes familiar if you’ve read Godin or Steven Pressfield (the author of the wondrous War of Art and Do The Work), and I think these alternatives do a better job in presenting the same ideas.

Recommendation: There are inspiring moments and the humor is great, but it isn’t a MUST read. If you’ve spare change, go for it. 

7) Contagious, Jonah Berger

Tipping Point 2.0!

The author builds upon Gladwell’s ideas and goes into fascinating detail as to WHY things go viral (6 factors) and how you can design your own campaigns with a much-increased chances of going viral. Tons of relatable examples and researched evidence. Even if you aren’t in web marketing, there’s a lot of stuff you will find useful and immediately applicable: from pricing, to crafting your marketing headlines, to making videos which will get shared. Well worth the time to read.

Recommendation: A must-read for any entrepreneur in today’s ultra-connected environment. 

8) Book Yourself Solid, Michael Port


I don’t like books which read like an informercial. This is one of them.

“If you use my Book Yourself Solid System you will find yourself having more clients than you can possibly handle.”

I think the author references this “system” in every other sentence.

I’m not so sure there’s a readership who likes reading something like this, but its not for me.

Recommendation: I bought this book because a number of freelancers come to me for advice and I thought I could get some insights on helping them get “booked solid.” There are a number of good insights and tips available, but nothing original. Plus, the infomercial quality was just too much for my preferred reading style. (I already bought your book – there’s no need to sell anymore!)  By the third chapter, I was rueing my purchase, but I forced myself to read in the hopes of gaining…something. By the 7th chapter, I just quit. Avoid this book.

9) How To Deliver a Ted Talk, Jeremey Donovan

I love books which are both quick reads AND where you feel you’re a better person than before you read it. This book is one of those. The book talks a bit about the TED format and gives you tips on selecting a great “TED” topic. I’m not really sure these will be useful for me (unless I go on to give one), but what I did find very very useful were the public speaking tips – all very relevant for ANY public speaking endeavor.

Recommendation: If you ever do ANY form of public speaking, this is well worth it, especially considering the not so big investment in time and price.  

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