Changing Your S.O.P. Can Change Business

I had a client who decided to make a good sized change in their business model. One of the keys to this decision (which was a good one by the way) was the use of disruptive forces. In their case, the disruptive forces included bringing in outside perspectives. This was in large part what helped them to get clear about their core competency. They got a bit uncomfortable. They disrupted their usual way of thinking.  And viola. The right solution came to them. Pretty easily by the way. Having to reinvent yourself is common–especially in the startup and growth phases of business. Twitter got its start out of a need to reinvent and in their case–do things radically differently. If you don’t know the story of how this innovative, disruptive company came to be, you can read their story here. On a side note, it’s also an interesting case of building a disruptive technology in stealth mode. Who knew you could change the way the world communicates in 140 characters?

moz screenshot Changing Your S.O.P. Can Change Businessj0438493 227x300 Changing Your S.O.P. Can Change BusinessWant to have more business? Be more profitable? Create an innovative disruptive technology in your industry? Get out of your comfort zone. Feeling uncomfortable isn’t well–comfortable. But it is sometimes necessary to help you get out of the ruts you’ve developed by habit. And sometimes, changing the standard operating procedure is just what’s needed. Here a few ways to disrupt your thinking:

- Read about innovations in other fields.
- Do a daily task in a very different way than normal.
- Ask for an outsiders opinion. Strangers or those outside your field can often provide surprising & new solutions.
- Work with different people on a project than you normally would.
- Spend time in a completely different environment. (for example, watch children play if you’re normally in an office all day)

If all else fails–stand on your head. That’ll make the world look different.

What are your favorite ways to disrupt your thinking?

And do tell me how things have changed once you disrupted your usual way of thinking and acting. Blog-perators are standing by...

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What I Learned Presenting at Ignite

Kate Suzan1 300x290 What I Learned Presenting at IgniteLast week was a big one in Boulder with Boulder Startup Week and the latest rendition of Ignite Boulder.  You know what Ignite is right?  If you don’t—here’s a quick synopsis: Ignite Boulder is a night of presentations with a twist. Presenting on a subject of their choice, speakers have exactly five minutes to teach something, enlighten us, or simply inspire—backed by twenty slides auto-advancing every fifteen seconds.

I was lucky enough to get to speak at Ignite Boulder 10.  You can see organizer Andrew Hyde’s post about it here.  Although this was my 3rd Ignite, it was my first time speaking. As a presenter, I learned a great deal about the process and myself. Here are my thoughts for those who might want to present in the future.

Do Your Research

It makes me a bit nervous when people say they’re going to speak at an Ignite event when they’ve never attended one. While you can ask opinions about it and watch speeches online it’s hard to get a clear understanding of the event and what’s expected of a speaker. While you should teach something of social value–being at least a bit entertaining is good as well. Finding the line between the two can be a bit tricky. To reduce your stress and do your best when speaking—go to at least one Ignite Boulder event before speaking.

Be Passionate & Have a Message

Talk about something that you’re passionate about or know a good deal about. But don’t sell us on your product or service. Such a turn-off.  Also, don’t treat this as an opportunity to try out all your funniest shticks. It isn’t stand-up. Introduce us to a new concept or way of doing things. Teach us something. For instance, as an executive coach & organizational strategist, I know a thing or two about culture and transition. So, my talk focused on helping people transition from a big city to a much smaller town like Boulder.  Sharing your knowledge will feel good and leave the audience more inspired, enlightened and hopefully educated—always a good thing.

SimplifyIMG001291 300x225 What I Learned Presenting at Ignite

Since I’m not a designer, I was worried about how polished my slides might look. That actually wasn’t the hardest part. One of the trickier things about preparing the slide deck was finding a balance between what I put on the slides and what I was going to say. Ultimately I found that my original slides were a bit too complicated.  There was simply too much for the audience to take in. Different elements on the slide were competing with each other and–with what I planned to say. I ended up taking out a ton of stuff right before I turned my deck in and probably would have simplified them even more if I had a time machine. Since I don’t–I’m pretty happy with what I did knowing what I knew then. Just make sure the message is clear. Simplify.

A good example is Ef Rodriguez (@pugofwar) who is far from a villian but does have an irreverent sense of humor,  knows how to play to his strengths and engage the crowd. His presentations are always inspiring and well done. He’s pretty much the gold standard for simple, to the point slides in my book.

Be Like a Boy Scout

Cramming is one of your worst enemies in this situation. Not doing enough work along the way and waiting until the last moment can = not good. It’s just like being in school. You don’t do your best work, it’s hard to remember all the pertinent points and it’s inherently stressful. Preparation is key. An iterative process will help you refine your thoughts over time.  Start working on your overall presentation and slides well before the deadline to turn them in. This will not only help you build a deck you’re proud of but also allow you to start preparing what you’re going to say. This also helps calm your nerves.

Practice, Practice, PracticeRooster Night 300x225 What I Learned Presenting at Ignite

Giving yourself plenty of time to practice will not only allow you to perform better but will also help you to calm your nerves on the night of your presentation. I was second to last when I spoke so I had the whole night to wait. Miraculously, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. I think this was largely due to practice and being comfortable with my message for each slide. If you know what you’re going to say you won’t need notes. And frankly, you don’t want notes. 15 seconds just isn’t enough time to read notes, speak and connect to the slides. Veteran Igniter Terry Cabeen (in the blue shirt) shared this with me a few days before the event. It was good advice. Glad I listened.

Manage Your Stress

Despite all this preparation you’re bound to be a bit nervous on the night of speaking in front of nearly 900 people. It’s natural. We all respond to stress differently. For some,  it makes them rise to the occasion. For others, it makes them want to drink. Be very careful if you tend to have the latter response to stress. Slurring your word in front a huge crowd of people just ain’t pretty. Monitor your intake and wait until you’re done if you really must knock a few back. This may be a once in a lifetime experience—you definitely want to remember it.

Enjoy YourselfThree Musketeers 300x225 What I Learned Presenting at Ignite

Speaking at Ignite Boulder is an incredible opportunity. It can be the most fun you’ve had in your life.  Although there can be a lot of pressure and it can be a bit overwhelming at times—make sure to slow down, take it all in and enjoy yourself. I tried to be in the moment as much as possible. This helped me to enjoy my entire Ignite speaking process immensely. I also invited my friends to share in my experience. They made it much more fun and offered great support along the way. Note: The beautiful women in the photo with me are my friends Tara Anderson and Kate Brown (stellar former Ignite presenters) celebrating with me.

Just Do It

If you have something you really want to share your insight on—do it. If you want to challenge yourself to create a cohesive presentation and keep up with the slides changing every 15 seconds…you guessed it. Just do it.  In the end, the whole process was even more fun and helped me grow personally even more than I thought it would.  Afterwards I felt the glow of having faced and conquered something I wasn’t sure I could ever do (speak in front of nearly 900 people).  After my first talk at Ignite Boulder, things that in the past I might have made a really big deal out of just seem, well…easier. I know I’ll feel the positive effect of it for a long time to come. I feel so grateful to have had this experience.

Thanks to Andrew Hyde, Benjamin Chait and all the organizers for creating such a special event and for making my 1st Ignite Boulder speaking experience something I will always cherish.


If you want to attend Ignite Boulder 11—tickets are already on sale. Spark submissions will open soon. I look forward to hearing your presentation…


The Growth Phase of Business: A Conversation with Jason Mendelson

moz screenshot 2 The Growth Phase of Business: A Conversation with Jason MendelsonjasonSm The Growth Phase of Business: A Conversation with Jason MendelsonI was fortunate to get some time to talk with Jason Mendelson, one of Foundry’s managing Directors. Foundry Group is a Boulder based venture capital firm which invests in entrepreneurs across the country to help them turn great ideas into sustainable businesses which define and lead markets.  Recent investments include Trada which aims to revolutionize search marketing through crowd sourcing and SendGrid which utilizes a cloud based email platform that makes transactional email delivery easier for companies.

The focus of our time together was on managing the growth phase of a company, which I like to call the teenage phase of business. Here’s what he had to say.

Once you’ve invested, how far into the life cycle of the business do you go?

All the way through.  However, the roles change over time. In the beginning I focus on the product and building out the management team. Once the product is well developed, I focus on making sure the team is functional and milestones are being met.  In this phase of business I become somewhat of an armchair psychologist. Sometimes.

What is the biggest mistake you see companies make in the growth stage?

Hiring sales people too early. If your CEO can’t credibly sell—you don’t have something to sell. Also in the sales realm, companies can have too much business development but not enough sales.  Meaning—they have lots in the pipeline but they’re not closing enough. From a sales perspective, a business needs to differentiate its audience and determine the top few prospects that are most likely to buy and knock them down. Then go after the next set of prospects likely to buy.

What are other common mistakes you often see?

Holding on to the wrong employees too long. Businesses often need to change out people faster. It’s like love. If you fall out of love, the chance of falling back in love are minimal. So it’s likely you won’t get that love back.  Holding on to people like this can be damaging to the rest of the staff and weigh on morale.

How do you know when it’s time to let someone go? What are the parameters you use?

It’s never easy to do and even less able to determine the right course of action before it’s obvious, but there are a couple of filters that I use.  First, if the person becomes unenthusiastic or disconnected from the business, that is usually a sign of something greater.  Also, if the team around a person becomes dysfunctional, that is also a telling sign.  Changes in behavior, performance issues, etc., are all early signs.  I wouldn’t suggest any of these leading to an instant termination.  Everyone deserves a transparent and open conversation, but it’s rare that you lose confidence in a person and they gain it back.

Which company gets the growth phase right?

Rally Software.  Tim Miller and Ryan Martens have a well functioning team, a great product, they understand their customers and the sales cycle and are willing to make the hard choices. They’re the gold standard.