“Up and to the right” -- Three Steps to Consistent Growth

 

There's a scene early in Groundhog Day when the host where Bill Murray's character is staying says something about the weather to him, and he launches into a whole meteorological discussion that he would do on TV, and the person just stares at him. Then he says:

Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?

"Chit Chat," she says, awkwardly for both of them.

 

"Up and to the right"

When you are a CEO, and someone asks you how things are going at your company, you never are sure if they are just making chit-chat, or if they are really interested in the metrics of your business.

I suppose I could have asked which one it was, but taking the lesson from that scene, I always thought that would seem awkward, so I always just said: “Up and to the right!”

I guess I could have just said “Up!” given that we’re all marching at the same pace to the right on the spreadsheet of life, but “Up and to the right” seemed more conversational and worked for both sets of people asking. At least I thought it did.

Groundhog-day

When someone was actually asking about the health of the business, they were always glad to hear "up and to the right."

Anyone who’s been around business for any length of time knows that to have 20 positive quarters in a row is hard. Really hard.

And so it was. It was the one thing I thought about more than any other: How to make sure we would grow, and keep on growing. All. The. Time.

And grow we did.

After five years of leading a company that grew every single quarter, I decided to step away, and now BlogMutt has a new CEO.

 

It's still all about growth

So, what am I doing now?

I'm still thinking about growth, all the time. 

Also, I'm very glad that I thought about how I want to grow in my own life, and that I wrote it down and published it.

The top thing on my list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. A guy I know saw that, and one thing lead to another and now I'm happy to say that I am a version of an EIR at CableLabs/UpRamp. It's an amazing opportunity, and I'm learning a ton and feel like I'm contributing to the world of cable and broadband in some meaningful ways, helping an established industry think about growth.

(My biggest contribution for CableLabs is not getting to define once and for all exactly what is a startup... but it's up there!)

I'm also doing a couple of other things that I'll write about more later, including helping a great friend grow a business that could actually put a dent in the opioid crisis.

I'm also mentoring some new startups, and have a few other projects going, including one where I'm analyzing some data for my pals at BlogMutt. (REALLY interesting findings percolating there, and I'll share them here, of course, once that's ready to go.)

In addition to that, I've also started doing some executive coaching for CEOs who are trying to grow faster and do more with the hours that they have.

Out of that coaching work has come a new opportunity: Helping launch a new kind of adventure. What I love about it is that it allows me to pay very particular attention to top-line growth.

 

Steps to Consistent Growth

The idea is simple: While techniques for growth are pretty well established, it can be difficult for operating CEOs to focus on those techniques every day. Once the realities of daily operations set in, it's quite difficult to have the foresight, focus, and courage to ignore what's going on in the business on a daily basis, and do what needs to be done for growing the company in the future.

There's an analogous situation in the public arena that I wrote about recently. In short: The future has no lobbyist. The status quo does have a lobbyist, and so things typically remain the same.

It's the same thing even in small companies. Employees are focused on the tasks at hand, but there's nobody who has the job of representing the unknown future.

Well, if that's your job, and you know that you aren't at your maximum and the organization you lead is not growing as much as it could, I might have an answer for you.

The answer is the 10X Growth Club.

(That's what we're calling it for the moment. Not sure if the name will stick.)

You can read much more about it on the site, but in short we are going to make sure that everyone involved is going to do three things:

  1. Set really aggressive, specific, structured goals for growth in a business for 18 months from now, basically by the end of 2018. We will work with you to find the right goals specific to your business.
  2. In a structured way, read the best thinking on growth, and apply it rigorously.
  3. As a group of peers with a lead facilitator, keep each other accountable to reach our individual goals. (This will be much different than other peer groups you may know about. See the site for more on that.)

So, there you have it: Three steps to consistent growth.

You may be thinking that you are already doing your own version of that, and maybe you are, but are you getting the results you think are possible?

Do you see a clear path to 20 positive quarters in a row? How about four?

If not, maybe you'll want to join us Thursday night.

If you aren't in Denver, or if you don't want to join a club, any club, (I get that, but would tell you to get over yourself) or if you are reading this too late... Just follow those three steps on your own, including getting into a group of peers with a leader who's been through those battles. 

Join us?

If you are in a spot where you'd like to see more consistent growth, I hope you'll consider joining us on the evening of Thursday, July 13th. Write to me to get an invite link.

If you know someone who is leading an organization, and wants to grow, I hope you'll send this post or the 10X site to that person.

Thanks very much in advance.


Up and to the right,
I remain,

-Scott Yates


Now is the August of our Discontent

I invite you to sit back and relax as you read this post, probably the only one you'll read all summer that ties together the U.S. economy, Richard III, New York tabloids, neuroscience, venture capital and crowdsourcing.

OK, not just this summer. Ever.

I just won't have time to do that in a few sentences, however. Pascal-like I only have time to write about this at length.

So grab a cold drink, prop up your feet, and join me if you like.

The kernel of this post started with a simple Facebook post after a lovely evening of corn on the cob, ice cream on the deck, and relaxing with the family:

Scott Yates fb post


 Just a lovely summer evening out there. Seems to happen every August: life seems so wonderful within the family and the world goes nusto -- the stock market goes screwy, some youths somewhere go all nuts (London's turn this year) and politicians become especially unsavory. I wish summer could last longer for us, but the world could use a good rain shower and some adult supervision.

I got a big response to that, which got me thinking -- using the parlance of the day -- that I might "unpack" that notion a bit here.

Let's start with the one everyone knows about, the stock market.

First, the NY Post put it best, the stock market was going up and down like a hooker's drawers.

New-York-Post-Cover-1312990193

What's going on with the market? I have no idea, but I have a hunch, however, that part of the problem is that all the grownups on Wall Street are on vacation, and a bunch of kids got a little carried away with themselves.

If that's the case, wouldn't we have seen this kind of thing happen in August before? Probably, and it turns out that's exactly what has happened. (Read this hilarious post about that.)

Of course, the market was also wacky because of the uncertainty created by the debt-ceiling shenanigans. My old boss, Kurt Andersen, is exactly right when he says that our politics these days is suffering from some kind of autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly attacks itself.

All of those August events led some notable folks to start talking about something very much on my mind these days, investments in startup companies. I won't link to those posts, because I'm going to slam them now by pointing out simply that it's always easy to forecast doom.

What I didn't read anywhere was this: If the stock market sucks as a place to keep money, wouldn't that help startups and other alternative investments? I mean, only those with tinfoil hats are suggesting that you should take all your money out of the markets and put it in gold. You'd have to be exceptionally bad at math to keep it in a bank. Wouldn't all that money do better investing in something that actually has a chance to grow? Not to get preachy, but they'd be also be able to invest in the one thing that everyone says is the best way to create new jobs. I understand there's more risk, but with risk comes...

Ahh nevermind. Let's move on.

The good news for startups is that smart investors understand that market fluctuations are materially irrelevant to what they do. George Zachary made the case very clearly in a single tweet

No matter what happens with public markets, my CRV partners & I will still be actively funding early stage founders pursuing the bold.

Adeo Ressi made the case, properly I think, that this is actually a time when we should have some cautious optimism. Brad Feld and Seth Levine of the Foundry group both made essentially the same case as Zachary and Ressi, but they did it in their own inimitable style, Brad saying "ignore the dow" and Seth with a long, reasoned post full of words like "numerator" and "capital efficiency."

The bottom line for all of them was the same bottom line I got reading about why love is the opposite of underwear: Do what you love so much that it doesn't get boring, and have grit about sticking with it. VCs and neuroscientists agree!

And so does the writer of this excellent story: "A Few Thousand Reasons to Be Optimistic."

Now, I know you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what all this has to do with Richard III. 

The prognosticators who came out and said that the market volatility signaled the end of all investments in startups were, I think, essentially emulating Shakespeare in saying: "Now is the winter of our discontent." (One of them, whom I still respect a great deal, actually said "winter is coming.")

What they didn't do, however, was read the next line.

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York

You see that? What Richard is saying there is that the winter is now made into a glorious summer by the son (sun).

The doom-and-gloomers are missing that. They want you to believe that things will be bad bad bad.

This is something that was not lost, by the way, on Steinbeck when he wrote The Winter of our Discontent. That book centers on a man who worked hard, had strong ethics, but then let his ethics slip so that he could make a buck and get ahead. It was a cautionary tale that we've seen played out in everything from Glengarry Glen Ross and Bonfire of the Vanities through Gordon Gekko and right up to The Social Network.

Some people learn from these kinds of stories what not to do, and some learn the upside down lesson that if they cheat, if they worry about superficial gains, if they wear a hoody and tell people that a billion dollars is cool, that somehow they will get ahead. Those people might for a while, too, but for the world winter is a good thing because that hoody just isn't enough to get you through a winter.

Here's how this became concrete for me just yesterday.

Just by way of background, I'm the CEO of a startup that uses a crowd of writers to help businesses do the blogging that they don't have the time or ability to do themselves. We sometimes get criticized because we don't pay writers very much. As a former journalist, author and writing instructor, this pains me. I want writers to do well. I understand that for many aspiring writers, there are just no good opportunities to write professionally.

Blogmutt now has paying customers and a crowd of writers working for them. I sent a note congratulating one of the writers yesterday because in a single day she wrote awesome posts for four different customers ranging from a super high tech website to a local boutique retail store. She's never been a paid writer before, but she is now. She wrote back and told me that she would like to donate the money she's earned to Water for People.

I really just about cried. Why? First because it's such a great idea and it will be so wonderful to be able to help out some deserving non-profits. But I was also moved to tears because it confirmed what we've been saying all along: that there is a group of very talented writers out there who would love an opportunity to write something real, something that will be helpful to real people, and get a foot in the door of writing professionally.

I have to admit that I've perhaps spent a bit too much of the last few months getting too close to the world of the kid in the hoody talking about how a billion dollars is cool. I participated in a kind of beauty pageant for startups, I "took meetings" and I talked about valuations for Blogmutt with some pretty exuberant numbers given that at that point we didn't have any customers.

We are still technically fundraising. We are still taking those meetings and we certainly would love to have some more money in the bank. We'd also love to have the connection to real leaders in our world that comes in an unparalleled way with a real investment. But now that we have customers we are realizing firsthand the truism that the best kind of investment is a customer paying for something that provides value. We have those customers now, and we have freelance writers who enjoy writing for those customers.

Our plan is that the warmth radiating from delighted customers and writers will make a glorious summer out of whatever winter comes our way.

A glorious summer. Not the August zaniness, just the ice cream gloriouisness.

Mmmmmmm. Ice cream.


CRM Pipeline for Beta List Tracking

This blog is not for my usual followers (Hi, Mom!). This is just the handiest place to put this tool. This will only be useful for startup companies with a beta invite list. I looked around a lot and none of the Customer Relationship Management tools work for what I needed, which is to track the people who've signed up to be early "beta" customers or users of a new product.

(In my case that's Blogmutt.)

So, in true start-up fashion, I built one. Here it is:

 

Feel free to use this and download it here. The rub is that you can't just save a copy and then start using it, you have to download it as Excel and then upload it back into Google Docs. (I suppose you could just use it in Excel, but... Ewww.) If someone knows a way to get around that with Google Docs, let me know.

I have to give major props here to the team at BetaLi.st. They are the ones who did the heavy lifting of making it possible for anyone to quickly launch an excellent beta list signup tool. My spreadsheet is just a way of taking the results of that and turning it into a CRM pipeline. If Salesforce.com didn't suck so much, and one of the promising new entries in the world of online CRM would add this feature -- I'm looking at you, Capsule -- I wouldn't have had to do this, but here we are. Luckily, in this crazy world, just about anyone can suddenly become a niche CRM venture.

So, feel free to use this, and if you feel compelled by the universe and decorum to give some credit, give it to Blogmutt, the best blog writing service on four legs. Woof!


Scott Yates year-end wrapup

A quick post with some odds and ends for an end to an odd year...

  • With Steve Maxwell, I finished writing the manuscript for The Future of Water, which will be published in the Spring by the American Water Works Association. Look for much more on that here, and let me know if you want to come to the party!
  • I'm a huge fan of Brad Feld. He's a hugely successful founder, and now investor. I've been a successful founder, but haven't yet got to start investing in other companies. Someday soon, I hope. He often blogs about all the books he reads, and now he's teaching himself a programming language. Sometimes I wonder how he does it all, and then I remember that in addition to just being smart, he doesn't have kids. That difference became stark for me because right while he's learning Python, I'm learning a programming language, too. It's just that I'm learning NXT, the language that programs the LEGO Mindstorms robots.
  • The robot was a gift from my son, who asked me a day later if he could have the robot if I died. I wasn't sure how I should respond to that. Anyway, if I die in some suspicious way, make sure my son has a rock-solid alibi.
  • I had a rough go of it getting the software working, and had my first rotten experience with Lego. Turns out I had a bad disc and the software isn't available online (I know, right!?!?) so I took just the disc to the store to swap it. They told me I needed to come back with the whole set. So I schlep out there a second time with the whole set, and they give me -- you guessed it -- just the disc. Anyway, if you have any hints about learning that NXT language, let me know.
  • One last note related to my son... He's been enjoying his club house most of this winter. Only now, when it's below 10 degrees outside, is it too cold. It doesn't have a front door, so, we'll probably head over to the best place in Denver for used doors, Bud's Warehouse. If you haven't been to Bud's you should check it out. Amazing place, a great story, and one of the true gems of Denver.
  • Second Saturday Science, my attempt to have a fun activity for the family with some learning thrown in, is still on ice. It was lots of fun, and the gang at the Wash Park Whole Foods was very helpful, but I just ran out of time. If you have questions or interest in that, just let me know. The funniest thing about doing that for me was this: Friends of mine could never keep straight what Saturday of the month we had the event. The lesson I learned is that even if you put a message in the very name of your venture, the message may not get through.
  • I'll be waiting once again for the Denver Public Schools calendar for next school year to get approved by the board. Until then, the current calendar has all the weird and wacky days off provided in a format that is useable. This is the No. 1 way that people find this blog through Google: looking for the DPS calendar.
  • I've started doing some consulting and training about writing through the Murawski Group. It's been a real honor to work with this group, especially the namesake Tom Murawski. Tom's been improving writing for thousands of people all over the world for years now, but he still delights in clear writing. I'm proud of my small part in encouraging Tom to enter a poetry contest put on by the National Punctuation Day website, and he won! Here's his delicious haiku:

Time to eat Grandma!
Save her with a comma, or
She's yours to savor.

  • One last note: With my longtime collaborator Wade Green, I'm exploring a business that will help small businesses create the blog content that they need in this Googly world. If you have, or know of, a small business that has a blog and would be willing to let us run some tests, contact me directly. Thanks.

If you are a friend, and somehow you didn't get the Yates Family Christmas Card by email, the fault is entirely mine. Please contact me so I can get you on that list.

And to friends now and friends yet to be, here's my wish for you and yours to have a wonderful 2011.


Techstars AND Founder Institute! This is going to be a great summer in Colorado

Update: Brad Feld/Jim Franklin just linked to this post, so I thought it might be a good idea to include an update. I'm now a Founder Institute graduate, and I've seen many TechStars company up close, and I agree with Brad/Jim that they are both great programs, and it's worth checking them both out. Note that the deadlines are for last year, they are different this year. Other than that, this guide is still helpful, I hope. -Scott

 

Colorado is going to have a great summer; the weather will be awesome and there are lots of great chances to hear music, hike, etc. That's always been the case.

What's new is that there will be two startup accelerators (we don't call them incubators any more.) The big kid on the block is TechStars, which has a track record that is getting up into the Harlem Globetrotter realm for win percentage. The program has done so well that it has expanded, but the Boulder program is the bedrock. Anyone interested in the tech scene in Colorado can tell you the energy and enthusiasm from the companies working in "The Bunker" is infectious.

I'm also now excited about another entrant, the Founder Institute, which was founded by legendary starup guy Adeo Ressi, who started TheFunded, a pretty disruptive (in a good way) site in the VC world. Adeo started that after a string of successful exits.

He's also landed a big name to be the lead mentor for the Denver version of Founder Institute, Jon Nordmark of eBags fame.

Now, if I think TechStars is so great, why did I apply to the Founder Institute?

Well, the answer lies in one of the items in the grid below. I'm busy enough with my other projects that it would be hard for me to get to Boulder every day for three months. Also, I don't really have an idea that fits into the TechStars motif, and I also don't have a co-founder. Most of the TechStars teams are just that: teams.

So I will be be attending the classes, and I have a new business idea that may fit perfectly into the Founder Institute system, but Adeo keeps saying that with Founder Institute it's really all about the Founder, and not about the idea. I've heard David Cohen say similar things about TechStars, but the application does ask several questions about the business plan, market, and the like. Even if the plan changes during TechStars, it's clear most of those accepted go in with a plan. I'll be going into Founder Institute with just the vague outline of a business idea.

There are other accelerators around the country, and they are getting plenty of attention, but I can't think of a better place to be than Colorado in the summertime.

Bottom line, Colorado is going to be an amazing place to start a company this year. If you want to be part of it, now is the time to check it out. No matter what your situation, there's an accelerator ready and waiting for you here. You just need to apply!

Colorado New Technology Accelerators

A Comparison Chart

Name Founder Institute TechStars
Founded in San Francisco/Silicon Valley; 2009 Boulder; 2007
Now also in Seattle, LA, San Diego, NY, DC, Singapore and Paris Boston, Seattle
Colorado application due April 25, 2010 March 22, 2010
Cost of application $50 None
Application Personality/Aptitude test, LinkedIn profile Background, business concept
Team application? Allowed, but not needed Generally needed for acceptance
Economics You pay $600, and contribute 3.5 percent equity of your company into a pool that is owned by all founders and mentors in your class You receive $6,000 per founder (up to 3), and you contribute 6 percent common / founder equity of your company to TechStars
Full-time in program Not required, many keep their "day job" Immersive, full-time for three months
Time Commitment One night a week, plus extra work on your own, for four months Yes
Companies in each session 10-45 10
Percent women historically About 25 About 10
Average Age About 37 About 27
"Big Names" Jon Nordmark for Colo., Adeo Ressi of The Funded started it David Cohen started it, with involvement and support from Brad Feld
Acceptance based on Aptitude test, strength of founder; idea not part of application Combined strength of company idea and team
Mentors Only successful startup CEOs Successful startup CEOs, VCs, lawyers and others
Also included Free or super-reduced legal and other services from 40 partners Office space in "The Bunker" in Boulder, some legal and other services

The Mark Cuban Effect at DefragCon

The DefragCon kicks off in an hour, but the pre-conference get-together was plenty interesting.

I've been to a number of tech conferences, but somehow some of the dynamics always surprise me, especially what I think of as the Mark Cuban effect.

Cuban, of course, is the brash and bold entrepreneur who built up an early "dot-com" and sold it to Yahoo at the absolute peak of the market before the tech crash in 2000.

Now he's involved in all kinds of stuff, but is best known for owning a basketball team. The name of the team, the Mavericks, matches his personality perfectly.

Cuban is known in tech circles for having contrarian viewpoints, and issuing them as loudly as he can. For instance he railed against the Google acquisition of YouTube.

He's certainly earned the right to do that.

Now, I don't want to pick on DefragCon, which is actually much better than some of the other tech conferences, but it is still full of people who just love to do a "Cuban." They make loud, bold pronouncements about why an idea will absolutely not work, how it's been done before, or why some competitor will demolish the idea before it can get any traction, etc.

I ran into lots of those people when I was founding, then running, a web-based business dealing in traffic information. If I would have listened to them I never would have started the business, and I certainly never would have sold it to Traffic.com. 

Heck, I may not have even bothered to wake up most mornings. 

Yesterday I talked to a couple of entrepreneurs who spent good money to come to the conference to learn and try to connect with others, and almost upon walking in the door they got the full "Cuban" from people who have never built, let alone sold, a company. (I actually had two experiences like that just in one day. The other was at the practice session for the upcoming Angel Capital Summit. More on that next week.)

I'm not saying that every idea walking around is great, and a little pushback is always a good idea. But for the next two days at Defrag I'll be attempting to tunnel through some of the bravado and find the great stories of new ideas, and bring them to you on Examiner.com or on sco.tt. I may not get to all of them right away, but I will try to report on many of them.

If you have a great story to tell (not just a press release announcing with great fanfare that version 3.2 of your whatever has just been released) look for me and let me hear it.


Greatest Day of Sco.tt's Life!

I'm spending much of the day at the DemoGala event in downtown Denver. I'll be reporting on it for the Examiner soon enough, but I first have to say that this is the greatest day in the life of Sco.tt.

No, not my life, my domain's life. 

You see, I have a card with the domain on it, and that's it. The picture you see above is the whole image on the card. Kind of a minimalist thing that I thought was kind of cool. Turns out that for most people... not so much. They just look at it, and then look at me. Some people are genuinely annoyed.

But not the people at this all-technical event today. They all love it.

The best reaction so far came from the incomparable Adeo Ressi. He's the guy behind two of the great ideas of the last few years: TheFunded and the Founder Institute. He and I have communicated about another potential project a few times, but today was the first time we'd met in person. When he had to go off to speak, he asked for my card. I handed it to him and he said it was the greatest card he'd ever seen. "This makes it worth the trip to Denver!"

Then he went to speak and I went off to a different session hosted by Examiner COO Dave Schafer. Why? Because I said I would, and because Schafer and I long ago toiled side-by-side at an actual newspaper printed on real paper. It was actually an excellent panel with Matt Cohen of OneSpot, Boulder and BDNT's own Robert Reich from OneRiot and the very impressive Lisa Stone of BlogHer. (I'm a sucker for journalists turned entrepreneurs.)

Anyway, one of my spies (I have them everywhere!) told me that Adeo held up my card during his speech, and said it was great, and then he called me a jack-ass because I didn't come to his speech.

To be called a jack-ass by Ressi. Man, if that's not awesome I don't know what is.


Thanks, but No Thanks

Well, the results were quite clear: Nobody wants a tool to keep track of job prospects.

Yesterday I launched a survey to try to gauge the interest in a new tool that would help job seekers keep track of all the jobs they are applying for.

I wanted to keep the survey small, so I only posted it to my Facebook friends and here, asking that if someone was working, to just send it on to friends who may be looking for work.

Nobody did.

Either I have really rotten friends, or something else is going on. I think now I understand it.

What friend would send an unemployed friend this tracking tool? I mean, what would you say?

Hey friend! 

I just found this great new tool for people who are out of work, and may be for months and months to come! People just like you!!!

Isn't it great that I thought about you when I thought about this crappy economy and how super duper hard it will be for you to find a job!!

Well, see you later.

Your friend.


I don't know why I didn't think that through before.

I was a bit bummed about this, thinking about how quickly dashed was my idea to create a great tool that would be widely used and much appreciated. My wife, always the clever one, took this as great news.

Better to find out after a few hours of work that the idea won't fly. Imagine if you'd spent a few months working on it, she said.

She's right, of course, so on to the next thing.

I'm baaaaaack

I consider myself a data-driven person. If something is working, do more of that. If not, then stop.

I was not having luck finding a job, and I was blogging a lot.

I had an inkling that my blog posts were a part of me not finding a job. I knew the economy had a lot more to do with it, but I couldn't control the economy. I could control my blog, so I basically just stopped.

And then, well, I STILL didn't get a job.

So I was going to, this month, switch over to a different blogging platform, Wordpress, which I used in my volunteer fight against the expansion of gambling in Colorado. I liked it a lot, so I thought I would switch before I started blogging again.

But as Rick says, destiny has taken a hand.

Later today I'll be blogging about me and Mark Cuban. Yes, that Mark Cuban.