5 MBA insights for startups and entrepreneurs

Last night I was privileged to be the guest speaker at a UNSW AGSM Business School Executive MBA dinner of those graduating 2017. (I graduated in 2013.)

The conversation was how having an MBA can make a difference and to talk through my personal learnings and journey. After working internationally for the previous five years, my MBA helped connect me to a local network of key decision makers, it provided the assignment discipline for me to focus my strategy and assessments on Digivizer, and gave me access to first- rate lecturers and a peer brains trust I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

In my final year, I wrote my strategy and plan for Digivizer in which I was able to secure $2 million in funding. It was definitely tough working full-time in my startup, studying for my MBA and raising my family, but it gave me amazing resilience and the conviction to pursue the opportunity I see for Digivizer (now seven years in and 50+ employees).

For those wondering how to make an MBA and a start up work, here are my top-five MBA insights for startups and entrepreneurs.

1. Do, don’t just think

Business success is about actually doing, and this is especially-true for startups. There are plenty of consultants, advisers and commentators in the Australian startup ecosystem. The ones to listen to are those who have successfully launched and grown a company, those who have delivered value to customers, and earned revenue and profits.

Many startups suffer for the lack of a plan, and they can be light on strategy. MBAs are good at helping develop both.

It is important to develop a meaningful plan with key measures of success. Then you need to translate your plan into actions and delivery. You need to measure all that you do and refine on the way. I love Eisenhower’s quote on planning and plans: ‘In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ This is true in preparing your business for success.

2. Define, then evolve, your strategy

When I co-founded Digivizer in 2010 we developed a clear vision: to provide value at the intersection of social media, big data and CRM. To help our customers in acquisition, retention and loyalty by knowing more about how to engage their customers. Back then this was new thinking as most focus back then in social was on volume measures of mentions and very little in connecting social to your customer base. Much of our time was spent explaining to marketing managers where the value was to be found in social media let alone linking it to actual customer acquisition and management programs.

Today that vision remains the same but we have had to evolve our strategy. We now talk to boards and C-levels about how to help to better understand the digital footprint of their customers and have this central in their customer engagement strategies and how to measure their digital investment.

Business of all sizes and at every stage in their growth now need to know exactly how their digital and social marketing budget is working, and to be able to take action on real time insights. We deliver those data and insights and have 7 years now of proof points.

We are also now working on going direct to the SMB business owner. A more simple message but largely the same vision (helping them grow their business by helping them know more about how best to engage their customers and know what is working and what isn’t).

Entrepreneurs are good at having instinctive visions, MBAs are good at building out business concepts against changing market conditions. The learnings in a MBA help form points of differentiation and bring frameworks that help you navigate the different stages of organisational growth.

3. Be flexible, ship value early

Back to doing: the value in any company is in what it ships and how that makes a difference to its customers. At Digivizer we started delivering value as soon as we could, and have built our company and technology primarily on the back of bootstrapping through our own revenue and cash flow. We received funding at a point that we wanted to accelerate building out our enterprise technology platform which allowed us to engage and serve some of the biggest technology, telco, financial, FMCG and retail clients. We are at the stage where we will be taking our technology and our learnings into the broader global SMB market in a SaaS model.

Part of shipping early is flexibility: you can’t wait for the perfect plan or the perfect product. You need to ship and learn from customer feedback. Today’s customers and users are very generous when taken on the journey with you, acting as beta testers when you’re developing a product (especially software).

MBAs can be guiding hands on these Agile environments, balancing product usage with product revenues. This helps remind the startup of the direction they should be heading in, and the ways to measure progress along that journey. Nothing validates a product more than a paying customer!

4. Develop your people and leadership teams

People are everything inside the organization. Startups have to compete against larger companies with larger budgets and established brands.

Yet startups also attract talent, often the best in the market. They offer opportunities to make a real difference from the first day at the company, and to do things never attempted or delivered before. And do so in new and more flexible ways.

To keep these people, you need to develop a team culture and develop them as individuals.

This means understanding everyone as unique individuals, having a clearly-articulated vision for the company, having well-defined opportunities to contribute, to share success, and to reward when the big prize is won (and with smaller prizes along the way). The biggest value you can offer is “the MBA every day”. Involving them in strategy, planning, pricing – all key decisions. Ensuring that everything we do is measured by impact on results, not ego or past experience.  It keeps the organisation flat, fluid and provides plenty of ideas and leadership opportunities. It certainly provides learnings.

MBAs can bring insights into structures, systems and programs that can help a start up grow through different stages. For example, at Digivizer we have introduced project management by objectives, and key results (OKRs, as espoused by Christina Wodtke). Anyone at any level can own a x-platform objective to deliver. We can connect all we do to the direction we’re heading towards (and why), and we can support our teams on the way.

5. The customer is everything

A great idea is just that without a customer. And, it must be said, an MBA is just a business degree without a customer. All businesses from start up to established are successful when they put the customer first. MBAs are most successful when they bring their knowledge to bear on the needs of the customer, working through the products and services of the companies they work for.

I’ve benefited personally from having an MBA, and Digivizer has as a company as well. Having an MBA means I can switch between structured thinking and creative development, between the growth mindset and the longer-term business mindset.

The result is that we have accelerated, evolved, and grown. We continuously check we are ready and relevant for our future.

Robert Kennedy said: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” If there is a difference in having an MBA in the startup world, perhaps this is it: having the business rigour and training to sit alongside your passion, vision and experience, to instil the confidence to take risks, to be prepared to try new things, to be prepared to fail, and to inspire in leadership so you can achieve great things.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

Are boards being let down by their senior leadership teams?

The Australian Financial Review’s Tony Boyd raises some amber, if not red flags, in his recent article about the lack of preparedness, of most of Australia’s listed boards to the reality of the mobile-first world in which they now operate.

Deloitte cites an Australian smartphone adoption rate of 84% (rising to 94% if you’re under 24), calling Australia a nation of hyper-connectivity and exceeding many western countries permeation rate. With 17 million Australians on Facebook, with most of us checking in at the moment we awaken and checking out just before we turn off the lights for the night on our mobile devices, businesses who ignore mobile as a platform to entertain, inform, engage and delight their customers are at their peril.

We agree with Tony Boyd’s assertion in conversation with Stephen Scheeler that boards need to see digital and social as ways to know much more about their customers, and thereby create better customer experiences.

Given most companies spend between 10 to 15% of revenue on marketing, with now over half going to digital, boards should be asking to see digital and social insights and results in their board packs as a matter or priority.  The beauty of digital is that everything is measurable.  Measuring the ROI of investment in digital should be continuously reported to help organizations learn and do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

Boards need to hold their leadership teams accountable to appropriate investment in the strategic thinking and tools necessary to enable them to engage directly with customers, and to track every activity into and away from their websites, digital messaging and social platforms through to conversion.

While it should be assumed digital is an essential part of delivery, the real opportunity is in the ability to delight the customer and create friction-less, positive and outcome-driven experiences when and wherever the customer wants.  Measuring the delight and sentiment of customers in relation to their total experience (including digital experience with your brand), and by focusing on continuous delivery of experience improvements will provide the type of stickiness and advocacy businesses and boards are looking for.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

Key Speaker for Government’s “Women in Global Business” Conference

Emma is invited to speak and present a case study as to the key ingredients to achieving global success at the July

Women in Global Business Speaker Series.

Here are some of the details being shared to promote the event:

Australian women will have the opportunity to hear from prominent women who have succeeded internationally at the Women in Global Business Speaker Series in July and August.The annual event held in states and territories across the country will feature speakers from a variety of industry sectors, providing businesswomen with practical advice on venturing overseas.

Women in Global Business national program manager, Cynthia Balogh, believe the event is beneficial in helping women overcome international barriers, particularly those in the Middle East.

“The Middle East presents quite specific barriers for women; some of the Asian and South American markets can do the same,” she said.

Balogh told Dynamic Export the event offers business owners the opportunity to learn and network with like-minded people.

“It’s an opportunity to see their role models, who have often had quite tough journeys to expand their businesses into those market places, women often learn from seeing role models. It helps them overcome some confidence issues, whether it’s personal confidence or confidence in business,” Balogh said.

Digivizer CEO, Emma Lo Russo, who will be speaking at the Sydney event can relate to the personal challenges women face when growing their business.

Lo Russo believes the event will provide shared mentorship and allow women to learn from real-life experiences.  “Having real honest examples of what works, is quite empowering. Instead of feeling like you have to navigate the unknown or have a goal and do it alone”.

Details & registration for the event can be found here :

Thursday 26th July 2012

8.30am – 12.30pm

NSW Trade and Investment Centre, Level 47, MLC Centre, 19 Martin Place, Sydney

I’ll post more about my key points to achieving international success here soon.

Choosing the right mentor

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I was recently asked what someone should look for in a good mentor.

The first thing to do is to recognize the value in engaging a good mentor or coach to help you hold yourself accountable for developing yourself and taking your career to the next level.

The value of seeking a career mentor is in how they can help you bring clarity to your career goals over the near, medium and long term, to help you prioritize your next steps towards your goals, how to strategize and evaluate options in light of your goals and values, and to help you stay accountable to the path you wish to take.  Through formalizing this relationship with someone, it provides a regular, safe and confidential sounding board to bounce your fears, aspirations and future challenges.

Finding the right mentor is based on how inspirational they are to you, how experienced, how insightful and how good they are in facilitating the right discussions. High Emotional Intelligence would rate as the key characteristic of a great mentor and just as you would look for a great employee, you want in a great mentor someone who has demonstrated that they are smart, talented, have a history of delivering great results and have built many great relationships and people through their leadership and association.

Finding the right mentor is based on how inspirational they are to you, how experienced, how insightful and how good they are in facilitating the right discussions. High Emotional Intelligence would rate as the key characteristic of a great mentor and just as you would look for a great employee, you want in a great mentor someone who has demonstrated that they are smart, talented, have a history of delivering great results and have built many great relationships and people through their leadership and association.

In a busy working world, it is too easy to rationalize to ourselves what we do and why we do it.  Much harder to rationalize to someone else. Particularly if they are asking you the right questions and you are looking inside yourself to provide the right answers.

Both you and they will know when you are making excuses or seeing things through a narrow field of vision.

If you want to take your personal life or career to the next level, it may be time to engage a mentor. The benefits of having someone else push, question, strategize with you through mentoring can only lead to greater success.

Tips for leading successful negotiations

Make_me_an_offerOften in business or when supporting coaching clients, I am asked to prepare or help someone to lead a successful negotiation. Here I share my key tips for leading successful individual negotiations:

  1. Prepare in advance – understand the principles of bracketing. Plan for, and clearly know your high point, your low point and your mid point.  Your midpoint should be what you are happy to be paid, your low point is your walk away, and anything upside of your midpoint you should be delighted.  Think about your strategy in how you could move your first asking point greater then where it would otherwise be to help raise the midpoint.
  2. Try to avoid putting your price down first – no matter what.   Look to get the person you are negotiating with to state their position, their thinking, their decision-making criteria. You can look to set the agenda and ideal outcomes based on principles before a number or the details of the introduction gets introduced.
  3. Keep your cards close to you and actively listen to the other party to help you determine your approach and negotiation tactics.  To get the other person to state his or her position first assuming the status quo is fine with you and there is no pressure on you to make a move, be bold enough to say to the other side, “You approached me. The way things are, satisfies me. If you want to do this, you’ll have to make a proposal to me.”
  4. Hold to your position for as long as you can – see how far they will come to your point first without you budging or without you budging far.  Communicate all the time that you are prepared and ready to make the deal and find something that works for everyone.
  5. Understand all the influencers and decision makers – you must know  and work with the person authorized to make the deal.  Talk to the key decision maker. Spend time in researching, listening and understanding their drivers and frame of reference.
  6. Discussions should always begin with a clear understanding of the win-win-win.  How do they win, how do you win, how do you win together?  Much research has been done to support the approach of winning for everyone is a much better outcome and brings greater results (financial & emotional) then if you have win by screwing down the other party.  Negotiation is based on the foundations of inspiration and persuasion.  How can you make the other party see your point of view or vision for the future?
  7. Negotiation is not always about money – negotiation can be based on a number of factors. Think creatively and really understand your own drivers.  For instance, in salary negotiations you may be looking at any one of the following elements:  Base Salary, Added Benefits, Profit Share & other short &/or long term incentives, Working environment & flexibility in hours, Additional holiday periods, Job enrichment & satisfaction based on doing more of what you love.
  8. Avoid being the first to double bracket or to negotiate against yourself (you would be surprised at how many people do this – make an offer, then jump in with another based on the other person’s non-response).  Hold and wait until the other person makes their offer known.  Hold too on your final position and get them to talk about what they are thinking and what you can do to help them.  Reinforce their and the combined win in the win-win-win situation. Identify any potential barriers to bringing closure to the negotiations.  Think about how you can remove them or how else they could be viewed and change your tactics accordingly.
  9. There may be variables in a negotiation, understand what they are and be clear (first be clear to yourself) as to what is important to you – eg timing, breakdown, flexibility etc
  10. Consider the power of using time as a variable – what needs to be done by when and how flexible can you or the negotiating party be around that (and what is the value to you around that variability).  Gain a sense of urgency – if the other party is keen to bring closure to the negotiations you may in fact be able to use that urgency to your advantage by moving slowly and looking like you don’t care how long it takes.  However look to ensure the principles of having something that works for everyone remains a priority.
  11. Never negotiate when you are feeling emotional.  Try to keep a level head at all times.  If you need a break, request time to think about the offer until you can think straight again.  Talk out loud to someone else if you need some help in unraveling your emotions and to help reform the confidence and rationale in your approach and  position.
  12. Remember to celebrate the final result of your negotiations. It is important to ensure all parties feel good about the deal that was done.
  13. Once concluded, spend some time reflecting – could you have done things differently for next time? Any lessons learned?
  14. Finally, never let the other party know you were prepared to accept less or pay more in the negotiations.  They will feel bad, and you will lose any goodwill created by the win-win-win principle.

Each of us negotiates many things and many times in daily life and in business. By considering these simple strategies, you should obtain an outcome you are happy with.

For leading more complex negotiations, there are many resources available.  One book that I recommend reading is “Negotiation Genius – how to overcome obstacles and achieve brilliant results at the bargaining table and beyond” by Deepak Malhotra & Max H. Bazerman, Harvard Business School 2007

What have you found works for you?  Do you recommend any strategies or resources that have helped you?  What tips would you offer others who want to lead successful negotiations?

Growth in a connected world

Emma will be the key-note speaker at next week’s business conference “Growth in a connected world” where she will explore in greater detail the forces of change impacting your business, customer relationships and infrastructure.

Understand, Grow and Lead by embracing these changes.

Read Emma’s related post on Driving your own upturn

DETAILS OF CONFERENCE:

GROWTH IN A CONNECTED WORLD

Date:  Wednesday 23 March 2011

Time:  7.30am for an 8.00am start

Location:  Sydney Masonic Centre, Corner of Goulburn and Castlereagh Streets.

NB: Ample parking available close by.

RSVP:

Register your interest by emailing ned@greengoldit.com.au Or

Register online at www.ontrackaus.com Events Or

Call (02) 9261 5111 / (02) 9248 0162

Who Should Attend:

Business Owners, CEO’s, CFO’s, CIO’s and Senior Managers.

Event hosted by:

Green and Gold People to People & Ontrack Systems (AUS) Pty Ltd.

Supported by SAP and NETFIRA.

SAP Business One, is an affordable integrated business management solution for Small and mid-size businesses, turns your existing business assets into thriving resources.

NETFIRA is a B2B supply chain software solution for small and medium businesses, allowing them to buy and sell online without a need for the website or EDI.

Driving your own upturn

Screen shot 2011-03-17 at 9.20.12 PMThere is no more normal.  No back to normal. No creation of normal.  There is only readiness and the acceptance that certainty in business has been removed.

What is required is a nimbleness and a feeling of empowerment to quickly synthesize and work out the emerging opportunities and the dangers that can be found in the ever-changing markets, changing technology, and changing pressures that surround us.

An organization’s readiness to make decisions, to take risks, to learn along the way, to adjust, becomes the new standard. An organizational culture that supports, encourages, embraces and celebrates new information and innovation. One that equates change with opportunity and an exciting future.

Competition has never been greater.  Competition for talent, competition for resources, competition for your customers, competition to be heard and valued by the people who matter to you – your customers.

Choosing to compete on price is no win for anyone – you lose profits and someone, somewhere is likely to do it cheaper, followed by someone else offering it cheaper again.

Competing on first to market is also time-limited.  Someone will follow and offer the same, maybe more, maybe better and certainly followed by a number of others.

Competing with the product and services you serve today will not serve you tomorrow. They will be substituted by new, better, sexier and more personalized or smarter versions or something that supersedes them entirely.

To remain relevant and of interest to your customers, you can compete on one thing only – your ability to consistently evolve and differentiate and to create the best possible customer experience.

You need to implement a model that supports sustainable and continuous innovation.  To build an organization that supports innovation that supports the improvement of your customer’s lives in a way that is valued and meaningful to them.

And critically, an organization that allows your people to be free to innovate, to think, to create, to build, to serve, to deliver growth.

Who is going to be the hero?  The leader of change? The leader of innovation? The leader of your success and future? The leader of growth and upturn?

The answer is You. Yes, You.

You need to create the space in your organization to shine. You need to create space to allow your team to shine and enough to allow all your people to shine.

You need to get every non-differentiating system and innovation-roadblock, innovation-killer and time-wasting activity out of the way so you can spend time on:

  • Finding ways to introduce new products and services to existing customers.
  • Identifying new customer segments to target new, innovative, personalized and relevant offers.
  • Capitalizing on opportunities in emerging markets and enhancing your performance in existing markets.
  • Delighting your customer through their unique experience dealing with you

If you are not already finding this time, thinking or operating this way, then your time is already limited.  Either you will be replaced by others who are, or your organization’s ability to compete will be time-limited.

Tic toc tic toc.

Time is ticking.  Time for change. Time to do things differently. To think differently.

If you want growth and are under pressure to deliver numbers, then take ownership within your organization to drive your own upturn and success.

Socializing your organization…

We are all connected (Image Dimitri Vervitsios)Social Media is not just for the geeks, techos and the under 30’s. No manager can ignore the increasing power and influence of the social web.  People are connecting, sharing, listening, influencing, growing the relevance of their networks every day.

It is easy to see that as technology advances at such rapid rates, the rules of marketing, customer and employee engagement have changed and must continue to change.

Most managers accept you can’t ignore the social web.  The question really becomes for each of us:  “How can I add value to my organization in determining where and how the social web can be leveraged to deliver solid bottom line outcomes?”

Connecting the social web to organizational value:

Building your brand is largely based on how your brand is perceived by your customers.  You don’t own your brand  – your customers do! Your customers are already choosing to watch, connect, discuss and engage with your brand.   Aden Young of DigitalBuzz noted in his December post “that 67% of people on Twitter follow a brand (that they will purchase), in comparison to only 51% on Facebook. Yet on Facebook 40% of all people follow a brand in comparison to Twitter’s 25%.”

Easy to conclude that the social web should not be seen as an add-on channel, but rather an extension of your business, providing customer information and the means to engage that should integrate into every aspect of your business.

Opportunities include:

Screen shot 2011-02-09 at 7.02.47 AM

WHAT QUESTIONS CAN AND SHOULD YOU BE ASKING?

Here are just some of the questions you can be asking your organization.

  1. Customer Journey – how is this being captured and managed from possible interest>engagement>purchase>repeat purchase>advocate>evangelist> influencers?
  2. Social CRM – how and where does (& can) the social media insights fit into the broader marketing and customer engagement, sales and support strategy?  Your communications strategy? How is this being integrated and implemented in real-time?
  3. Lead generation strategy – where and what is involved in leveraging the triggers provided within the social web in relation to your known customers and your ideal customer target markets?
  4. Employee Power – How does your digital strategy allow for you to grow, harness and leverage your employees? Your partners? Your franchisees? What is their role in this? How can they be involved in utilizing social media? What guidance and more importantly, permission and encouragement do you need to provide?
  5. E-Commerce – Thinking beyond “bricks and mortar” and your current go-to-market model, where and when will your e-commerce platform sit within this? Where and how do you drive traffic to and from this site?
  6. Retailing – How can you grow your online brand and customer engagement to drive traffic into store?
  7. Business Information – How are you overlaying the insights gained from the social web as it relates to your customers,markets and ideal new customers and markets?
  8. Measuring – How do you measure all the above?  Once you embark on a digital strategy that includes leveraging the social web, how can you be sure you are being successful?  What measures, insights and returns can you gain? How real-time is this?

These are just a few questions to start the ball rolling.   What else do you think should be added to this list?

How can you (the non-geek/non-social web expert) get involved in harnessing the social web and add even more value to your organization?

When One Business Just Isn’t Enough: How to run a portfolio Business

Emma was recently interviewed by Suzi Dafnis of Australian Businesswomen’s Network.  Here she introduces Emma to her network as:

“For many of us, running one business is more than enough. My guest today runs two businesses. Emma Lo Russo is an experienced innovator, organisation leader and marketer. She has brought together her experience gained from leadership positions across a broad spectrum of industries to two businesses.

Digivizer, a business that delivers the digital footprint of the people you know (i.e. your clients) and the people you should know. Digivizer looks at who you should connect to through social media and Validity Coaching, a collective of experienced executive coaches.

Emma joins me to talk about the pros and cons of running a portfolio business, that is, a collection of businesses. We look at:

  • Does running two businesses impact the effectiveness of one or more of the business?
  • How can a split focus help you get better business results?
  • What are the challenges of running more than one business, and how do you overcome them?

Enjoy this interview with Emma Lo Russo.”

http://www.abn.org.au/site/article/Video-When-One-Business-Just-Isnt-Enough-How-to-run-a-portfolio-business-Emma-Lo-Russo-interview

Compliance vs Engagement

goldfish-taking-actionDoing the basic job required of us, in most cases, is easy to do.  In fact we can often do much of what we do without having to really engage, invest and stretch ourselves. 

We learn from an early age to follow instructions. To have our creative thinking ordered with a set of pre-determined decisions to create structure, harmony and order. 

Certainly it helps to learn the consequences of taking actions that are outside of what is expected of us. However do we consider the dangers to progress if we merely look and teach others to comply?

How often do you hear “I do this because that is what is asked of me.”  Or “I don’t do this, because the rules say not to.”  In business we can often provide more processes, instructions and parameters to reduce risk and error margins, but what happens when it stops people from thinking or taking ownership all together?

In this past week, I saw two separate cases where perfectly intelligent and capable people were discussing a problem within their working environments.  In being challenged as to why they did not see those problems as ones they could solve, the dutiful responses were offered around it not being their job, it wasn’t done that way, there was red tape, a usual way to solve this etc.

In reality, they had become compliant.  Stopped thinking, stopped ownership, stopped engaging with the broader objectives and motivations for their companies and themselves.

It didn’t take long to unlock their thinking and to see alternate ways to own and solve the problems they were facing. 

Unfortunately once I started looking for examples of compliance over engagement elsewhere, I started to see it everywhere – in customer service across multiple businesses, in my children, and in me.  It has made for an interesting point for reflection.

Key to solving passive compliance is engagement ourselves and encouraging engagement in others.  It is not enough to just observe or be present.  Not enough to comply even if it gets you over the line and off the hook.  What is required of us is to really engage with a problem you see and view it as something you can own, influence and drive towards a solution. 

In these cases I refer to this week, by engaging with the problem didn’t mean these clients had to make the problem their own completely and feel the pressure to solve it on their own. 

In both cases it was enough to shift the thinking from it being someone else’s problem to being “our problem” to solve.  And to get them thinking about how they could lead and influence change.  To think about possible options and opportunities.  

Seeing the bigger picture and not being hamstrung by barriers – perceived or real, allows for progress. 

By engaging fully with what you are hoping to achieve and not the process of getting there, promotes critical thinking and creativity. It brings action and results.

Where do you need to switch gears and move from compliance to engagement to really generate progress?