Jan 032013


Why You Need To Know About TED — Inspiration And Ideas

If you are looking for inspiration and ideas, I strongly suggest that you check out TED.  Technology, Education and Design, for which TED is the acronym, is a series of conferences and talks that cover a wide range of subjects.  Most importantly though, at this time, TED’s website, www.TED.com offers over 1,000 such talks, usually less than 20 minutes each, for free.  It’s a truly amazing resource!  Their tagline is “Ideas worth spreading”; I couldn’t agree more.

Here are a few of my favorite talks on TED.com, the variety of which gives you a good idea of the range of topics covered on TED.  The site contains ideas and inspiration for you, regardless of your interests.

1.)   Steve Jobs:  How To Live Before You Die

This talk was filmed at Stanford University in June, 2005.  Steve Jobs gave the commencement speech shortly after he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  At that time, he had received treatment and the cancer was in remission and Steve Jobs provided his words of wisdom to the students, many of whom probably had a difficult time digesting his message.  It was very insightful, but perhaps a bit dark and difficult for younger people to appreciate and digest.  He made several great points, but the one that stuck with me most was about asking himself the question whether, if today were the last day of his life, he’d want to do what he was about to do.  If the answer came up “no” too many days in a row, he knew it was time to make a change.  Great insights from a true legend of the entrepreneurial world.

2.)   Susan Cain:  The Power Of Introverts

Ms. Cain’s talk is humorous and insightful.  She makes a good argument about the importance of introverts in our society, which she convincingly contends is geared toward viewing extroverts as “successful”.  I recommended this talk to my daughter who confronts many of the same issues Ms. Cain seems to have faced and continues to overcome to this day.  She points out that you’re not either an introvert or an extrovert – it’s not binary.  Rather, you fall somewhere along a continuum from completely extroverted to completely introverted.  Those who are equal part introvert and extrovert she refers to as ambiverts, a label that strikes me as funny, but apt.  I think this talk should be required viewing for all educators.  Let me know if you agree.

3.)   Elizabeth Gilbert:  Your Elusive Creative Genius

I found this talk fascinating.  As a heavily left-brain, analytical thinker, I’m always searching for ways to use my right-brain more and be more creative.  It’s an uphill battle at times, but this talk was an inspiration.  In particular, I found it very interesting how, in ancient Greece and Rome, they did not believe that creativity came from humans; they believed it came from a divine spirit.  It was in the Renaissance that humans were put at the “center of the universe” (figuratively speaking), so it was then acceptable to attribute creativity to humans, rather than to some divine spirit.  This led to some ego inflation, of course, but it also had the effect of putting serious pressure on creative types, as they could no longer blame a lack of creativity on some mystical spirit.  It was a double-edged sword, quite literally in some cases – humans could take the credit for creativity, but they also had to withstand the blame and punishment if creative genius was nowhere to be found.  Ms. Gilbert tells a few stories that make quite palpable some of the challenges of the post-Renaissance concept of creative genius.

This is just a small sample of the ideas and inspiration that await you on TED.com.  Don’t take my word for it – check it out!  Let me know what you find.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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May 042011

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.
Thomas Alva Edison

Ideas in and of themselves do not get us anywhere. You can have a million ideas and still never accomplish anything. You must develop the habit of taking your ideas and putting them into action. Develop the habit of noting all your ideas, so you don’t forget them. Realize that, if like most entrepreneurs, you have “an idea a minute,” you will not be able to put them all into action. Realize too, that you must learn to filter your ideas, then take the best ones and execute on them.

Apr 042011

If you are like many entrepreneurs, you probably have at least ten ideas each day for potential businesses, products and services. You’re constantly seeing things and processes that can be improved and you’re probably very interested in and aware of trends in a variety of marketplaces. So are you rich yet? Has your ability to come up with ideas gotten you where you want to be?

Unless you constantly force yourself to differentiate between ideas and opportunities, chances are that your ability to brainstorm new solutions for just about anything has not yet made you as wealthy as you’d like to be. So what is the difference between ideas and opportunities? How can you determine whether this one is just another idea, or a real opportunity that can be turned into a profitable business?

In another article I wrote on a similar topic – idea screening – I provided a series of criteria to help you determine whether a particular idea could provide you with a business that suited you well. Those criteria included:

Does the business have high gross margins?

Are there a lot of employee headaches associated with the business?

What potential does the business have to reach break-even cash flow within 12 months?

What is the startup capital investment required relative to what you are able/prepared to spend?

Do the strengths necessary to be successful in the business suit those of the founder(s)?

What is the founder(s)’ level of enthusiasm for the industry?

What is the founder(s)’ level of enthusiasm for the idea?

Does the business have potential for residual income?

What is the market growth rate for the market/niche you want to go after? How is it expected to behave in the future?

What is the number and strength of the competitors you’ll be going up against? Competition is not necessarily bad, but you’ll want to understand what you’l l be up against.

What will be your ability to take a vacation in this business? Retail, for example, can be tough.

What is the potential for “significant” (to you, based on what you consider “significant”) upside in the business, if you are successful?

Will there be a lot of liability risk in the business? Anything that deals with products or services for young children, for example, can carry a high level of liability risk.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list to measure your potential venture against, however looking at it against these criteria will help you determine whether it’s “just another idea” or a true opportunity that you would like to pursue. Also, and very importantly, what may look like just another idea to some people, may look like a great opportunity to others. It depends very much on your perspective and where you’re coming from. It also depends on what type of business you are trying to create. In another article, I described five broad categories of businesses that you could consider pursuing. These categories included:

Hobby Businesses: for example, if you were to try to turn your love for collecting antique toy trains into a business.

Lifestyle Businesses: an example here would be if you were trying to capitalize on specialized knowledge you had developed and use it to become an independent consultant to businesses on that topic. Rather than a career, you’d be seeking a business that allowed you time and geographic flexibility, while at the same time allowing you to earn a comfortable living.

Franchise Businesses: This would be where, for example, you’d open up a Subway or McDonald’s franchise, with the desire to take advantage of the strong brands and systems they have created and provide to their franchisees.

Self-Funded Growth Businesses: In this category, you invest your own financial resources and “blood, sweat, and tears,” with the objective of creating a growth business. Here you’re not looking at hobbies usually and you’re not just looking at creating a comfortable lifestyle with time and geographic flexibility. Rather, you are “putting the pedal to the medal” and trying to build a “real” growth business, with multi-millions in sales and most likely, a decent number of employees.

Outside-funded Growth Businesses: Here is where you try to do pretty much the same thing as in the Self-Funded Growth Business model, but you try to do it more quickly and/or on a greater scale. In this case, you would typically take equity investment from “angel” and/or venture capital investors.

There is no wrong type of business to start, of course – it is an individual and personal decision, based on your biases and where you happen to be in life when you decide to start a business. Even though there is no wrong type of business to start though, as you can see, your mentality with regard to which type of business you’re trying to create will have a significant impact on how much weight you put on the various screening criteria discussed above. If you’re trying to start a Hobby or Lifestyle Business for example and you determine that the startup costs will be $10 million, that may be an extreme negative. If you’re looking to start an Outside-funded Growth Business, on the other hand, then startup costs of $10 million may be very much in the realm of reason.

So, in conclusion, work hard first to understand what type of business you would like to create. This doesn’t need to be cast in stone, but depending on where you are in life, you may gravitate strongly toward one of the categories mentioned above. Once you’ve thought that through, when you get your normal flow of business/service/product ideas, likely on a daily basis, consider them in light of the type of business you’d like to create.

Once you’ve considered your ideas in the context of the type of business you are trying to create, and discarded those that don’t match with your objectives and vision, you are now in a position to apply the idea screening criteria mentioned above, as well as any others you may like to add. You can find an Excel (or PDF, if you’d prefer) screening worksheet here to help you with this process.

I hope you have found this post helpful as you work to differentiate between ideas and true opportunities, in the context of the type of business you’re trying to create. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us or to leave a question or comment below or in the top right corner of this post. Either way, we’d love to hear from you as you look to turn your ideas into opportunities and profitable businesses.

Paul Morin

Mar 292011

For those of you who are poker players and entrepreneurs, you may get a feeling in your gut that this headline is accurate; if you don’t let’s see if I can convince you otherwise. For those of you who are not poker players, in particular tournament poker players, I will try to lay out the analogy in very clear terms and define any special poker words or phrases, to see if I can convince you as well.

I thought it would be fun and instructive to develop this analogy, as after my family and friends, poker and entrepreneurship are two of the things I love most in life, and I’ve been doing both since well before my 10th birthday. My story with poker started sitting on my Dad’s knee as a kid, watching him play and more often than not, win, at various types and levels of poker games in our dining room. It was there that I learned so much about human behavior, and specifically about how logic, emotion and luck all play very important roles in the success of all poker players … and entrepreneurs.

Ok, so let’s set the scene for how being an entrepreneur, especially a startup entrepreneur is very much like playing in large poker tournaments. I will use No-Limit Texas Holdem poker as the example, since this is the game that has become the most popular in recent years, given the meteoric rise of such events as the World Series of Poker. So, imagine that you have entered a large poker tournament, either online or a live in-person event. You paid $10,000 to enter the tournament. For sake of argument, let’s say there are 2,000 players, so that would be 200 tables of 10 players each. In order to win the tournament, you need to be the last player standing. Do you like those odds? But at a minimum, of course, you’d like to at least make the final table so you can get some “TV time”. Besides the TV time, reaching the final table in such an event would mean that you’d bring home several hundred thousand dollars, at a minimum, which wouldn’t be bad given your $10,000 entry fee.

Now that the scene is set, let’s talk some specifics. It depends on the particular tournament, but you don’t usually start with the same number of chips as your buy-in amount. In other words, in this particular example, you wouldn’t necessarily start with $10,000 in chips; you may start with $1,500. It doesn’t really matter, as long as everyone starts with the same amount and the “blinds” structure reflects the starting chip amount. What are “blinds”? These are the blind bets you are forced to make each time around the table. With $1,500 in starting chips, the usual starting blind structure is 10/20. This means that each time the dealer button comes around the table, you will be forced to bet the “blind” amount, first the “small blind” ($10, in this case), then the “big blind” ($20, in this case), so in total you’ll be forced to be $10 + $20 = $30 each time around the table. This doesn’t seem like much at the beginning, but the blinds steadily increase, usually every 15 minutes or half hour. This is done so that people can’t just sit there and not get involved in the action and simply wait forever for a huge hand to come. It is designed to keep the game moving; otherwise tournaments could last an intolerable amount of time and would be very boring.

So now that you understand that you will not be able to sit there and wait to participate until you have a pair of Aces, let’s talk about what this means in practicality. Well, it can mean different things to different people, depending on their nature and how much the entry fee means to them. It is not uncommon at the beginning of a large tournament to see many people go “all-in” (bet all their chips) almost without regard to what cards they have in their hand. This is crazy, right? Well, yes and no. It’s crazy because they’re risking their entire entry fee right away, without having been able to play for a while and receive other information that may be helpful to them. It’s not crazy because, as most veteran tournament players will attest, you typically need to get some early momentum in order to have any chance of winning or reaching the final table. I’d say it would be less crazy if, in the example above, they didn’t go all-in “almost without regard to what cards they have in their hand”, but with a very strong starting hand. As veterans, they know they will have to suffer some “all-in moments” at some point during the tournament, so the philosophy could be, “I may as well suffer them with a great starting hand, regardless of when I get it in the tournament”.

This is an interesting juncture to start bringing the analogy back to entrepreneurship. First, do you think it’s realistic that most entrepreneurs starting up today will need to invest $10,000 or more to get their businesses off the ground? While there are exceptions, of course, I’d say the answer is definitely yes. Some great businesses have been started for less, but on average, it takes more than that to get a business off the ground. Second, is it accurate to say that although you may not be physically sitting at a table with your competitors when you start a business, you will have competition, and in most markets, that competition will be very intense? Third, do you believe that among the various competitors you’ll be up against, there will be “aggressive players”, “loose players”, “tight players”, and every variation in between? Finally, do you believe that some people “show up to the tournament” to win and others show up just for the entertainment of being there? Is this not also true with entrepreneurship that some people are there to make as much money as they possibly can, to “win”, and others are there for different reasons – they may like to make some money, but that may also not be their primary motivation?

So how do we use these ideas to help us in our own quest as entrepreneurs? First, I’d say that you must realize that logic, emotion, and yes, luck, will play a role in your success as an entrepreneur. Just as with poker, you must do everything you can, to “get your money in good,” but you must also realize that luck will play a certain part in your success in a particular initiative. The good news in entrepreneurship is that, unlike in tournament poker, your success is not binary — you’re not either in or out, but rather you have the chance to get back up, dust yourself off and try again. And that you MUST do to be successful as an entrepreneur. Second, realize that if you are by nature very conservative, sometimes you may need to “change gears” and step outside your comfort zone to be successful as an entrepreneur. In poker, if you become too predictable, you’re dead.

The same can be said for many aspects of entrepreneurship. You must be willing to get “outside the box” you’ve created for yourself and do so without fear. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, realize that you are being “blinded off” in entrepreneurship as in tournament poker. You constantly have to make blind bets and you cannot sit there and do nothing. In entrepreneurship, these “blind bets” come in the form of all those little and not-so-little recurring and non-recurring expenses you’re paying to “be in business”, non of which benefit you unless you’re willing to make your move and take a chance at “winning the tournament”. I’m not advocating that you go all in right away, in fact I think it’s a good idea to get as much other useful information as you can before making your “all-in move”, but I implore you to not just sit there and watch everyone else play the game. If you do, you will have wasted your time and “entry fee” unnecessarily. If you had the motivation to get started in your business, then you have what it takes to succeed, but you must have confidence in yourself, be an active player and not wait for success to come to you.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Please enter your comments below or by clicking on “Responses” on the top right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

Sep 232010

Ideas are a dime a dozen.  Good and great ideas are a bit harder to come by, but they are out there.  What there seems to be a real dearth of is the ability to execute.  In the end, regardless of how good your ideas are, if you cannot execute on them, they are not worth much.  Again, if you are great at generating ideas, but not great at executing on them, you must get help.  That help can come in the form of a partner, a key employee, an advisor or a strategic alliance.  Perform a realistic assessment of your execution strengths and weaknesses.  Where you find weaknesses, determine whether the areas you’ve identified are critical to your business and whether you want to try to improve your skills, or whether it‘s better to bring in help.  Also keep in mind that, regardless of whether you’d like to, you simply will not have enough time to do it all.  Don’t try to do it all by yourself – it’s a recipe for failure – put together a stellar team of internal and external resources that you can work with to execute effectively and efficiently.