Finding and Solving Problems


By Tom Fedro

Ultimately, all business is about solving problems.  From the earliest trade to the most recent, a problem is identified (or even created) and someone comes along with a solution to that problem in order to create value.  Sometimes, the problem isn’t easy to envision as such.  Video games were created for entertainment, right?  Where’s the problem they solved?  Well, in that case the problem was boredom.  In fact, entertainment options and their availability made boredom more of a problem than it was before.  A mind not entertained now is almost unbearable to most Americans.

From the perspective of a start-up, there are three crucial elements of this business reality.  First, a start-up needs to solve a problem.  If you’re not looking at your product as the means by which a problem is solved, you’re not in the world of technology.  The most beautiful code in the world, if it doesn’t solve a problem, is effort that won’t help you.  Sure, you might create some elegant code but the esteem of your fellow tech heads isn’t going to get you far with your banker. Ultimately, a technology start-up is a solutions start-up, and it’s hard to create a solution when you’ve no idea what it is you’re trying to solve in the first place.

That’s not enough, though.  A successful startup has to recognize why the problems exist.  I love to think of automated backup as the perfect example of this.  Really, how hard is it to press a button at the end of the day and backup data, right?  Still, the automation was created to fix the element of error created by the human factor.  Someone had to understand the problem before a solution could be presented.

A good technology startup solves a problem and understands the human aspect of it.  Then, and also critical, a successful startup determines how to sell the solution to the people with the problem. Without this last part, the other two are irrelevant.  A successful company needs to identify the problem, solve it, and then convince someone to both see the problem and the solution.  Otherwise, we’re spinning our wheels.  We’re creating beautiful code and earning pats on the back instead of profits.

What problem is your startup addressing?

Some Thoughts on Philanthropy

Tom Running.high res

Start-ups aren’t all the romantic fun that Hollywood makes them out to be.  We tend to see the drama and the excitement long after the company in question has succeeded.  We see Google or Apple or Microsoft with dramatic increases in shareholder value and we forget that the founders spent long sleepless nights wondering if they’d make payroll on Friday or if the money for the lease would come in.  We picture those wonderful “aha!” moments when everything falls into place and tend to forget that, for the most part, getting a business off the ground is just hard work, plain and simple hard work.

Once you launch the business and your shingle is on the front door, you’re going to get hit with requests for help from worthwhile and deserving causes.  That’s fine by me.  I think we all ought to do our best to contribute in any way we can.  Here are some thoughts on the subject.

Stay in Business

The first and most honorable thing you can do to help society is to stay in business!  How many employees rely on you to pay their bills and feed their families?  You’re obligated first to keep your business running, to avoid layoffs, and to provide an income for the employees relying on you.  You can directly benefit a great many people by providing training and opportunity to those working for you.

Help Others Stay in Business

What works for you works for other companies as well.  One of the clients who uses a product we developed was able to save three hours of work every single day by implementing our solutions.  The entire IT department at Purdue University saw their workload reduced by using the Adaptive Restore product.  What does that mean?  It means the department was able to save resources and provide better services.  The efficiency of the entire organization benefited.  Create and deliver products that do the same for your customers.

Encourage Participation

When possible, don’t just write checks.  Even if you have a few thousand dollars earmarked for a charity, it may be better to get your employees more involved.  Causes need more than money.  They also need engaged advocates.  Write a check and you’ve definitely helped, sure.  Encourage participation, and you’ve helped create advocates.  One of my favorite causes is Free Wheelchair Mission. In 2015 we set a goal to raise enough money to buy 200 wheel chairs and ran in the Surf City half marathon race in Huntington Beach California to collect donations to meet our objective. In this process we got some of our people very excited about the cause and were able to exceed our plan and provide 217 chairs to disadvantaged folks around the world.  The experience was great and provided more to all involved than could have possibly been expected from simply writing a check.

Look for Philanthropic Routines

There are a number of ways to help that will easily fit with what you do already.  What happens to your recyclables?  There are organizations that will pick them up on a regular basis.  The same goes for your empty ink cartridges.  What do you do with your obsolete technology?  Remember, to a tech company, obsolete means something entirely different than it does to a non-profit that really only needs to handle word processing and communications.  Actions that seem insignificant to you can be remarkably important to others.

Have a Heart

Remember that causes are important to those who champion them.  Do your best to help when you can.  When you can’t, make sure you treat the folks asking for help with respect.  Trying to be a part of something bigger than any individual ought to be respected.  If you send people on their way empty-handed, don’t send on their way empty-hearted.

The Myth of Motivation


By Tom Fedro

I’ve been fortunate to experience a great many exciting business environments, and it’s been very interesting to watch how approaches to business have changed and then changed back and then changed again.  I’ve seen buzzwords praised and condemned and been through all of the big and sweeping business philosophies.  I’ve seen six sigma, management by objective, one minute management, team management and more.  It can get crazy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re really looking at one thing and one thing alone, people.

Think about that for a minute and then consider the departments in your organization.  When you think “sales” you’re probably putting a face or a name to the thought.  When you think “IT” you’re doing the same.  No matter how much we try to program things in a way that lets us avoid it, the reality is that people do the work of your company and people make the difference between success and failure.  So naturally, we all try to figure out how we can motivate people to do their jobs in a way that builds our success, right?

Here’s the problem.  Motivation is a myth.  More accurately, “motivating,” is a myth.  I remember one of the most significant things I learned when studying Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  (He’s often considered the father of Total Quality Management.) He made a comment in answer to a question and said, “Everyone is already doing his best.”  He went on to explain that best efforts, to have any value, need direction.  How often do we spend our time trying to get our employees to be excited about their work instead of making sure they have all of the information and tools necessary to get it done?  Really, if your employees need constant urging to do the work, should you reconsider how you hire them?

I believe everyone wants to take pride in his or her work.  I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks How can I get away with drawing a paycheck while accomplishing nothing.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I know I’d never hire anyone with that attitude and wouldn’t keep anyone with that attitude on staff.  Here’s the scary thing though… do I encourage those kinds of thoughts by making assumptions my employees won’t do their job if I’m not right there offering a constant stream of extrinsic incentives?  Am I frustrating the desire to succeed right out of my staff when I cheer them on, exhort them to put in that extra effort, and beg them for superhuman dedication?  If I’m more focused on their willingness to perform than I am on their ability to perform, I think that’s the result.

I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for a pat on the back and encouragement.  I am saying that it’s time we had enough faith in our employees to believe they actually WANT to succeed and to make sure they have the tools necessary to do so.  What good is getting them excited when they don’t have what it takes to deliver, right?

The New Funnel


By Tom Fedro

I remember back in elementary school (okay, vaguely—but no jokes about how long ago that was, please) when I first learned about converting measurements.  Back then, we’d spend forever turning inches into feet, feet into yards, cups into pints, pints into quarts and every other measurement of volume, distance, and time into other measurements of volume, distance and time.  Then things got crazy when we had to learn how to change centimeters into meters, milliliters into liters, and so on.  Want to drive a kid insane?  No problem.  Add in converting from standard measurements to metric system measurements.  I remember a test in which we had to measure various shapes in order to discover their area.  We had to be careful to use the correct ruler (some of us, the correct side of the ruler) so we measured in the right system.  If you measured correctly, you got good marks.  If you tried to use a standard ruler for a metric question, you failed.  If you didn’t use the correct formula for determining the area of a square, you failed.

Well, you probably know by now that I’m not just reminiscing.  I belong to about twenty news feeds too many, and on one of them, a marketing piece popped up.  With my background in marketing, sales, and business development strategy, it’s hard for me to pass up on clicking on a title that involves marketing.  This particular post declared that the funnel model of marketing is dead.  That’s right.  Dead.  Not in trouble, not sick.  It’s dead.  I read with interest, and I’m always amazed at how quickly business experts move to declare the end of something.  You see, I don’t think the funnel is dead at all.  I think it’s just been converted. A short while ago it was liters, and now it’s gallons, or something like that. Just as a European in the United States has to put some thought into distances expressed in miles before beginning a journey, marketing executives now have to put some thought into how they measure marketing effects and a customer’s journey into the funnel.

The funnel represents a fairly clear understanding of the path from a potential customer to an actual customer, but the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action) process is no longer influenced in the same manner it was a few decades ago or even one decade ago.  I find it interesting that so many marketing experts are ready to throw away the model instead of learning new ways to understand and influence customers within the various stages.  Certainly, there are new factors to consider that might give us four or five different kinds of prospects in the Interest or Decision stage, but realistically, they’re still in that stage, right?  Has all of humanity changed into something else or have people instead changed the way they gather and act on data?  I think it’s the latter, and I think marketing professionals have to start thinking about the funnel in a different light, but I’m not ready to say it’s not a funnel just because I have to measure it with a different ruler.