The 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship (Part 3 of 3 part series)

EntrepreneurContinued from the previous post…

8.  Learn to sell – this is a must-have skillset, whether you have someone in charge of sales or not…  The good news, even if you’re not born with the gift of gap, you can become better by continually getting in front of prospects and practicing your pitch.  While I do not believe in entrepreneurs pitching vaporware but if you don’t believe in your products and services, it’s impossible to convince others to believe in them (you can read between the lines)…

9.  Redefine failure – when you have your own business, often the highs are so high and the lows are so low.  But even on their gloomiest days, successful entrepreneurs feel a compulsion to make sure that failure isn’t the end of their story.  It’s OK to fall down nine times, just make sure that you get back up the 10th time.

10.  Don’t be in it just for the money – a tricky statement¸ since most entrepreneurs I know are red-blooded capitalists like me.  But as an old saying goes, money is a great motivator, not an end-all be-all.  Successful entrepreneurs are driven by desire to accomplish meaningful things while embracing it as a way of life.  Jobs once asked Sculley (back then a senior exec at Pepsi) when trying to convince him to join Apple, “do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water or change the world?”  Sculley came on board as the CEO of Apple (only to get fired later but that’s for another post).

While writing this 3-part post, I found myself reflecting on my own current endeavors.  Am I following the rules myself and doing everything I can to ensure their success?  What’s your answer?

The 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship (Part 2 of 3 part series)

EntrepreneurContinued from the previous post…

4.  Pick founding teams with a history of working well together – complementary skill-set, respect for each other and egos-checked-at-the-door are some of the key factors.  At PARR, Reggie (technology), Paul (legal) and I (finance) complement each other.  At SMG, Jason (strategy) and I (implementation) have let’s get the work done regardless of who gets the credit (and distributions for that matter) attitude.  It’s very rare that one person brings everything to the table when starting a company.

5.  Having said that, realize that you play the most important role – even with co-founders and teams that work well together, one person has to be the visionary, the driver and “more equal” than others.  Who wrote the business plan?  Who put the most stake on the table in starting the outfit?  In a perfect scenario – partners push and pull each other as this is a heavy burden to carry for just one partner, e.g. take turns wearing this hat.

6.  Manage risk – there are options to what I call (borrowing trader’s term) naked butterfly spread or jumping out of a plane without a chute, such as raising capital, inking pre-launch deals with customers or not quitting your day job.  See if you can get to a point launching a company feels as risky as working for someone else.

7.  Commit learning – especially management skills.  Most will admit that it takes different skillset to start a company than it does to lead 100 employees strong mature organization.  Read a book, hire executive coaches, solicit 360 degree feedback, subscribe to SMBMatters (ha!) – whatever it takes to continue to grow as a manager and a leader, do it.

To be continued…

Surfacing: Can Microsoft Get Above Water in the Tablet Storm?

Surface Pro preview: Triple-play UI is its best innovation

Takeaway: As a hybrid tablet/laptop, Microsoft Surface Pro makes a bold pitch to reinvent the portable PC, but a few big caveats get in the way. Read TechRepublic’s product preview.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Over the past six months I’ve asked a lot of IT professionals, business folks, and technophiles what they think about Microsoft Surface. I asked them whether it could be the kind of work tablet they’d want to use, and whether they expect it to be more friendly to business and IT than the Apple iPad and Android tablets. The responses have been surprisingly optimistic. Very few people have been dismissive of Surface, even though it’s fighting from behind in the tablet race.

As I dug deeper with the people who were excited about the Surface, I quickly realized that most of them had very little interest in Surface RT — the less expensive, ARM-based version of Surface that can’t run traditional Windows apps. By far, the most interest — especially from IT pros and techies — was focused on Surface Pro, the Microsoft tablet running a full version of Windows 8 on an Intel processor.

As a result, I’ve been looking forward to taking one for a spin and reporting to the TechRepublic crowd on how it performs. With Surface Pro officially launching on Friday, I can report that I’ve been trying out a Surface Pro and I can share some of my early observations and conclusions.

As a frame of reference, I’ve also been using the Surface RT since its launch in October and I’ve been regularly using the Nexus 7, iPad, and iPad Mini in recent months. In the past I’ve been pretty skeptical about the usefulness of tablets for general computing. I think tablets have their place for specific tasks and functions and as companion devices, but I think most knowledge workers find that using a tablet as their primary system involves too many compromises.

Of course, Microsoft set out to change that with the Surface. Just in case you get distracted and don’t finish reading this post then I’ll give you my two quick takeaways on the Surface Pro: It feels like a much more complete version of Surface RT and I can say without hesitation that Surface Pro is capable of doing more than other tablet on the market.

Does that mean I’m ready to make Surface Pro my next laptop, or that I would recommend it as a viable PC alternative for business professionals? Not quite yet.

How’s the overall user experience?

I’m not going to get into all of the specs for the Surface Pro or compare its details to the Surface RT or the latest iPad. We’ll do all of that in the full review on ZDNet next week. Suffice it to say, the Surface Pro is far more powerful than its RT brother, and the iPad, and virtually all Android tablets. But, the tradeoff is an $899 base price and battery life that is much more like a laptop than a tablet. For now, let’s veer away from the numbers and feature lists and focus on user experience and how well this thing really works as a product.

The first thing I noticed as soon as I unboxed the Surface Pro is how thick and heavy it is (even thicker and heavier than the Surface RT). We’ve gotten pretty spoiled in this regard, especially by Apple and Samsung and what they’ve pulled off in slimming down their products. The weight and thickness of the Surface Pro is much closer to the 11-inch MacBook Air and most 11-inch Ultrabooks than to iPad and Android tablets. Otherwise, it looks and feels very sturdy and has the premium finish of a high-end product.

Both the Touch Cover and the Type Cover that I already had for the Surface RT snapped right into place and started working just as well on the Pro as they do on the RT. With the Surface Pro, I also tested Microsoft’sWedge Touch Mouse (right) since the Pro is a full-blown Windows 8 machine. I was glad I did. It’s a handy little mouse (I especially liked the one-finger touch scrolling) and like most Windows operating systems Windows 8 works best when you have quick access to a right-click button.

Once I logged into the Surface Pro with a Windows Live ID, I immediately got many of the settings, accounts, and files that I had already set up on Surface RT. The SkyDrive integration is the highlight of the services experience. It’s nearly as simple as Dropbox and has a lot more options.

Surface also attempts to do some social integration with Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and a few other services, but the experience is a mixed bag. There are some things that are nicely streamlined, like replying to Facebook comments and Twitter mentions from within the People Hub, but other things like the ways it mixes up social network streams and notifications is a bit awkward. I kept wanting to just see my raw Facebook and Twitter feeds (displayed in Windows 8’s minimalist text style), but couldn’t find an easy way to do that and so I gave up.

Once you dig in to do some work, that’s where Surface Pro really shines. There are native Windows 8 Metro apps for Evernote and Dropbox — two of the most popular consumer apps that business professionals love — and you have the whole library of standard Windows apps to draw from and install in Desktop Mode.

Metro apps are very visual and highly usable and I wish there were a lot more of them. If there were, I think it would make the Surface a much more attractive option for average workers. The ability to work with the large catalog of traditional Windows software helps soften the blow, but hardly any of that stuff works well in a multitouch interface. For that reason, I found myself relying pretty heavily on the Type Cover keyboard and the Wedge Touch Mouse for most of the time that I was using the Surface Pro.

That said, one of the most pleasant surprises was how effective it felt to move between the Type Cover/Wedge Mouse and the multitouch screen. There are some things that are faster and more effective with touch — like scrolling to a specific part of a page or flipping through images — and there are some things that are more efficient with keyboard and mouse — like long typing and right-clicking for options — and the Surface Pro was the first device that gave me the feeling that the future of business productivity will likely include both.

The digital pen for the Surface Pro also works beautifully. It’s the most accurate and precise digital pen that I’ve used. It can draw really thin lines and it draws on the screen precisely where it’s supposed to. I’ve never been a huge fan of pen computing, but this one gave me a sense that I could use this to annotate some stuff and do virtual whiteboarding that could actually be useful as part of my daily work.

That was my biggest lightbulb moment with the Surface — seeing how it combines a traditional mouse and keyboard experience with multitouch and pen computing in a way that works naturally and integrates the value of all three.

I have other thoughts and observations but I’ll sum up them up into a list of the kudos, caveats, and needs. Then, I’ll sum up my initial analysis about the Surface Pro.

Photo credit: Microsoft

Kudos

  • Threads the needle between touch, keyboard/mouse, and pen computing
  • Metro interface enhances usability and Metro apps continue to multiply
  • Desktop Mode offers full Windows 8 and its traditional app ecosystem
  • Type Cover, Wedge Touch Mouse, and the included digital pen are excellent accessories

Caveats

  • It’s a hybrid that doesn’t stand out as a tablet or laptop
  • Battery life is half of most tablets
  • Won’t sit in a lap
  • Not very useful in portrait mode
  • Microsoft Office is installed, but costs extra

Needs

  • A tiltable screen that can sit in multiple positions
  • A desktop and laptop docking solution
  • Digital pen should store in the casing
  • Integrated wireless broadband should be an option
Photo credit: Microsoft

Analysis

Surface Pro flirts with greatness, but its caveats could become show-stoppers for a lot of users.

The product brilliantly weaves mouse and keyboard with multitouch and pen computing in ways that feel very effective and useful. When you compare it to other tablets, there’s simply a lot more you can do with Surface Pro because of its triple-play interface and its ability to run the full version of Windows 8 in desktop mode.

The problem with Surface Pro is that it’s trying to bridge the gap between two products, a laptop and tablet, and it doesn’t quite stand out enough at either function. It’s lacking a little bit as a tablet and it’s lacking a little bit as laptop, so you have to make too many compromises on both sides.

What makes tablets like the iPad and its top competitors useful is their ease-of-use, portability, battery life, and big catalog of third party tablet apps. Surface Pro fails most of those criteria. Its dual personalities of Metro and Desktop Mode are powerful but complicated. It’s nearly as heavy as three iPads. Its 4-5 hour battery life means it won’t ever make it through a full day without a charge. And, while Surface Pro has all of the native Windows apps, it doesn’t have many touch-friendly tablet apps. Even if the Windows 8 tablet platform becomes a developer favorite, it will likely take a couple years to get a critical mass of productive tablet apps.

So, what about thinking of the Surface Pro as more of a laptop replacement? After all, under-the-hood it’s more like a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook than a tablet. That’s how I spent most of my time with the Surface Pro thinking about it. However, from that perspective, it’s a laptop that won’t sit in your lap properly (the kickstand tips over). The trackpad on the Type Cover is nice for a tablet but doesn’t match the spacious trackpads on the MacBook Air or the best Ultrabooks. And, even some Ultrabooks now offer mobile broadband and much longer battery life than the 4-5 hours you get with Surface Pro.

I can’t help thinking that if you want most of the benefits of the triple-play UI and full Windows 8 in Surface Pro then you’d be better off with a product like the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which has 10 hours of battery life, mobile broadband, an integrated pen, and laptop and desktop docks. The hardware isn’t quite as polished, the screen isn’t quite as impressive, and the accessories aren’t quite as slick, but it starts at $679 and overcomes several of the Surface Pro’s shortcomings.

The Surface Pro is one of the most ambitious products I’ve reviewed. It’s trying to do a lot — ultimately, a little bit too much. But, even if it doesn’t sell well, I expect that Surface Pro is going to be remembered as the product that showed us how keyboard/mouse, multitouch, and pen computing can work together in smart and useful ways. And, either Microsoft will fill the gaps in version 2.0 or other products will run with the triple-play UI.

Get IT Tips, news, and reviews delivered directly to your inbox by subscribing to TechRepublic’s free newsletters.

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is the Editor in Chief of TechRepublic. He writes about the products, people, and ideas that are revolutionizing business with technology.

The 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship (Part 1 of 3 part series)

EntrepreneurMany household names in the corporate world got their start during economic downturn.  In 2009 at the depth of the worst business climate in decades, Americans started nearly 7MM new businesses.  Most of them will fail, but some will succeed.  Bill Murphy Jr., author of The Intelligent Entrepreneur, wrote about the 10 rules of entrepreneur success.  As simple as they sound, there’s lots of wisdom in these rules…

  1. Commit to entrepreneurship, rather than a specific business – being an entrepreneur is a lifelong decision.  And such commitment helps entrepreneurs stay flexible and react nimbly to market feedback.  My first company, RJSL Group, started out as a shipping container import business for automotive industry but turned into a CFO staffing shop.
  2. Look for market opportunities before creating business solutions – don’t decide on products and services first then set out to convince the market to buy what you are selling.  You will be left out wondering why sales are flat.  Rather, use your expertise to first understand potential customers’ needs.
  3. Focus on innovation and scale – most businesses are launched in unattractive, static fields and offer no competitive advantage.  The founders only employ themselves, cannot articulate growth plans and generate subpar topline.  The successful ones combine deep knowledge of customer needs with a commitment to achieve outsized goals.

Tidbits 18 – Product Review: Patron XO Cafe Dark Cocoa

As finance and accounting professional, this is probably the roughest time of the year with year-end closings, current year forecasting and other time-sensitive fiduciary compliance tasks that should have been completed yesterday.  So after another fun-filled week that entailed one all-nighter and butting heads with a former client who cannot understand why including expenses in 1099 is a wrong thing to do, I met with a friend for a TGIF suds at our favorite watering hole.  After a couple of Stellas however, we decided to switch gears.  The bartender recommended a drink that is less than a year old in the market when we requested an aperitif that’s not too sweet.  Patron XO Café Dark is essentially its flagship silver tequila with coffee and chocolate flavorings, and it certainly hit the spot.  It went down smooth without the usual agave aftertaste that even tequila diehards at times don’t necessarily care for…  Just as the bartender promised, sweet enough but not too sweet, which probably makes it little dangerous since the liqueur has the full alcohol content of normal tequila.  According to Patron’s corporate communications, 2012 sales have exceeded forecast by 20%, and it hopes to ship 50K nine-liter cases in 2013.  Its marketing director attributed the product’s success to carefully crafted tasting note targeted to specific band of consumers.  After a couple of shots (one on the house), I think Patron has developed a niche product that could occupy top shelf for years to come.    tequila

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers

%d bloggers like this: