Conforming To Your Customers’ Realities: Your Stakeholders’ Perceptions Matter

Gary KilldallThe man at left built the first personal computer. He also spearheaded a number of fundamental software breakthroughs, including creating the basic hardware / software architecture which resulted in the creation of the third-party personal computer (PC) software industry.

If this gentleman was such a pivotal player in the early days of the PC revolution, why is he essentially unknown to most entrepreneurs under forty years old?

The short answer is that he failed to conform to his Stakeholders’ realities. Few mistakes would have such wide-ranging implications in the business world over the next two decades.

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RIP RFP – Why Startups Should Never Complete A Request For Proposal – Especially One Issued By The Government

“The emperor holds a stick in his hands, both ends parallel to the horizon, while the candidates advancing, one by one, sometimes leap over the stick, sometimes creep under it, backward and forward, several times, according as the stick is advanced or depressed. 

Whoever performs his part with most agility, and holds out the longest in leaping and creeping, is rewarded with the blue-coloured silk… and you see few great persons about this court who are not adorned with one of these girdles.”
Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift was satirizing the manner in which court appointments were made in 18th-century England. However, his description could be aptly applied to the process by which some Big Dumb Companies (BDCs) and even Bigger Dumber Government agencies (BDGs) execute their procurement decisions.

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Old Gray Advice

During the early part of the 20th century, New York City’s Tin Pan Alley district was the epicenter of American popular music. During its heyday, Tin Pan Alley musicians devised an inexpensive yet effective method to obtain free, expert advice – they played new songs to elderly doormen and solicited their opinions. If the doormen could hum or whistle the tune after hearing it once or twice, then it was deemed suitably catchy for publication.

Ultimately, this simple marketing litmus test became known by the derisive term, the “Old Gray Whistle Test” (OGWT), as many of the doormen and other pro bono musical advisors used by Tin Pan Alley musicians had gray hair.

The OGWT is an interesting historical anecdote, but what can modern-day entrepreneurs learn from elderly doormen and hackneyed musicians from nearly one hundred years ago?

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Kiss of Death – Contract Provisions Entrepreneurs Should Avoid at All Costs

Agreements with Big Dumb Companies (BDCs) are like DC Comic’s evil villainess, Poison Ivy. Both are seductive and alluring and both are potentially fatal.

As a startup, your most meaningful agreements will likely be struck with BDCs. You will no doubt craft agreements with companies of similar or even smaller size compared to your own, but the risk associated with such agreements will be tempered by the fact that you will negotiate such agreements as a relative peer. As such, your greatest risk and greatest opportunity will arise from the deals you cut with larger entities.

Fortunately, it is possible to craft lucrative deals with BDCs that do not limit your adVenture’s ability to charter its own destiny. Just as Batman must avoid Poison Ivy’s kiss of death, so too must entrepreneurs avoid the Kiss of Death provisions which BDCs often attempt to include in their agreements.

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Competitive Sleuthing

“To let the brain work without sufficient material is like racing an engine. It racks itself to pieces.

Sherlock Holmes inThe Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Too many entrepreneurs stress about their competition without having enough information to make informed decisions. They need to move beyond the emotional aspects of competing and develop multiple, largely free, sources of competitive information.

There is no need to hire an expensive consultant. As noted in, “Competing From the Fringe,” dedicate a senior member of your team as your “Watson” (you cannot afford a Sherlock, after all). Watson’s role is to diligently and consistently mine the readily available data sources noted below and periodically communicate the state of the competitive landscape to your Core Team.

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Pulp Facts – Entrepreneurial Press Releases Should Generate Revenue

“When I looked up from the menu, I was staring into the eyes of a man who had been dead for three years.”

– Opening sentence from “Time of Terror” by Louis L’Amour

“When Speeke came at last to water, he was two days beyond death.”

– Opening sentence from That Man From the Bitter Sands by Louis L’Amour

Successful pulp fiction writers like Louis L’Amour had to grab their readers with their first sentence. They did not have the luxury of hoping readers would warm up to their stories after a few pages. Most pulp fiction fans flipped through the magazines before buying them and purchased the stories that grabbed them by their shirt collars and compelled them to read more.

Your startup’s press releases must be as compelling as pulp fiction. If the reader is not engaged at the outset, it is unlikely they will take the time to read the remainder of your release.

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