Generals Say Troops Understand Need for Pay Cuts

http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/03/26/generals-say-troops-understand-need-for-pay-cuts.html?ESRC=dod.nl

As ex-military, I have mixed feelings about this…   Yes, the Armed Forces are all about the mission and defending the constitution of the United States of America.  But you still have to pay the bills and feed the family.  You decide…

How to successfully Transition Project Managers

By guest contributor Anthony Schatz, part 2 or 2 part series.  Tony is senior partner at RJSL Group, IT project management consultancy and staff augmentation outfit based in Chicago.

We all know project resources are ever changing.  It always seems that once you have a well-oiled team and everyone is working towards the same goal, inevitably a key member is promoted, removed, or leaves your project.  As project managers, we are trained to work through these situations and keep the project moving forward.  However, what happens when the project manager is replaced?  Who leads the transition?  Who ensures the project continues to move forward?

Here are some key components to ensure a smooth transition from one PM to another:

Sponsor(s)/Key Stakeholder Communication – This group will make or break a successful transition.  These are high-level resources that need to understand their project will not be negatively impacted by this change.  This group is mainly concerned about completing the project successfully.  Explain to them why the transition is taking place and what the plan is to keep the project moving forward.  If possible, have face-to-face meetings.  Follow up these meetings with an email to have a written record of what was discussed.

Make sure you reach out to ALL sponsors/stakeholders, whether they are deeply involved or not.  If you miss one key resource, it could jeopardize the transition.

Team Communication – Much like with the sponsors, it is important to explain to the team why the transition is taking place and what the plan is to continue to move forward.  It is important to explain the project is not changing and the team’s responsibilities are not changing.  Each resource is still responsible for the work assigned to them.

Documentation – A successful transition relies on the transitioning PM having all the project documentation up to date.  Project standards (project schedule, risk and issues log, project charter, and status reports) provide the new project manager an understanding of what steps are necessary to continue moving the project forward.  Further, good documentation allows the new PM to get up to speed without having to ask redundant questions that have already been answered.

Mobile BI – The Future is Here

By guest contributor, Anthony Schatz.  part 1 or 2 part series.  Tony is senior partner at RJSL Group, IT project management consultancy and staff augmentation outfit based in Chicago.

When a representative of your company goes out to call on a perspective customer and walks into the customer’s office, you, as a company, want your representatives to have the most current, accurate, and actionable data at their fingertips.  With the integration of smart phones, tablets, and iPADs used by field representatives, the need for and use of mobile BI is a reality.

Two examples come to mind: Pharmaceutical Sales Reps and Consumer Electronic Field Teams.  There is a distinct parallel between what these two groups do and the information they need to complete their jobs.  For the most part, both groups go into accounts, talk with decision makers and auxiliary staff, and attempt to increase the sell through of their product.

mobileBIThe major question that needs to be asked and answered for the pharma rep and the CE field rep is: What will make the them more successful in driving sales for the company?  The simple answer is information.  Here is the caveat to that answer; it is not just information, but real, up-to-date, actionable information.  This is where mobile BI comes into play.

Whether pharma reps or CE reps, resources in the field need data and information before they enter a business and it has to be timely and informative.  Mobile BI platforms, accessible through a web portal, allow a company to provide specific and actionable data to their field representatives through an on-going basis.  Now, with all the mobile technologies available to your mobile workforce, field representatives can go into a client armed with up to date such as:

  • Sales data for the product and the customer
  • % of the time the customer sells your product versus competitor products
  • Competitor information (promotions, sales comparisons, product comparisons…)

One of Mobile BI’s great benefits is to help drive sales through arming your sales force with information prior to making that sales call.  Your reps will be able to make informative, actionable plans to follow when interacting with the customer.

Mobile BI gives your sales force the flexibility it needs in the field to make decisions, but ensures those decisions are based on timely, actionable, and objective data.

Facebook & WhatsApp, The M&A Bubble, and Valuing B2B Companies With New Metrics

By Jason Busch, guest contributor.  Jason Busch and Richard Lee, the founders of Spend Matters Group, a Spend Matters affiliate, frequently lecture and advise on M&A strategy and valuation in the B2B sector.

Looking at Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, I’m getting a sneaking feeling like it’s 1999 all over again. As with the last Internet bubble, consumer-centric tech companies with stratospheric valuations are leading the charge in buying smaller firms with, well, stratospheric valuations. And the metrics being used to gauge acquisition value – the number of users and user growth rates – seem eerily similar to non-financial valuation metrics from last time around (eyeballs, anyone?). That is, when Mary Meeker and Henry Blodget ushered in an era where discounted cash flow analysis was taught only to business school students and had no place in the bubble M&A world.

But how does this relate to WhatsApp? In a story from earlier this week, Reuters reported that “Facebook is paying $42 per user with the deal, dwarfing its own $33 per user cost of acquiring Instagram. By comparison, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten just bought messaging service Viber for $3 per user, in a $900 million deal.” As an aside, for those who are curious, the multiple on employees (55 in total for WhatsApp) was $344 million per FTE.

So number of users is now the new “eyeballs” in B2C. But what will the metrics for valuation become in B2B if indeed this bubble migrates to such future IPO candidates as Fieldglass, Coupa, and IQNavigator, not to mention public companies in the sector including SciQuest – and the already atmosphere topping Tungsten/OB10?

Arguably, the metrics by which one will measure B2B procurement, supplier network and marketplace companies this time will be more grounded in financial upside than the somewhat nebulous number of “free users” favored by the B2C social and app companies on the deal side today. Outside of the usual financially centric metrics including but not limited to discounted cash flow (DCF) as well as earning and revenue multiples (and growth multiples of the same), I’d vote for the following if I were trying to understand the potential value of these organizations in a bubble scenario:

  • Dollar volume of “non-card” commerce flowing through the application or network (owing to the potential value of new means of trade financing inclusive of both receivables financing and payables financing). The potential upside from a trade financing perspective (a market that in our analysis is well less than 1 percent tapped today) on the B2B application and network side is as much as 200+ basis points per transaction (but even a more conservative 25-75 basis points could show huge revenue potential)
  • Volume growth rates in terms of both dollars and number of transactions – a more valuable proxy than “number of customers” or “number of suppliers” because it shows actual application or marketplace usage.
  • Rate of large buying organizations added and successfully transacting. Taulia, for example, is absolutely the reigning champion in terms of adding new customer names in the e-invoicing and dynamic discounting area in the past 18 months. And after all, you need large buyers to enable value-added services for suppliers (which can generate new sources of revenue longer-term)
  • Number of “active suppliers” or those vendors doing commerce with organizations through an application or network in the past month or quarter. Separating out active from passive suppliers is key. Some networks and application providers claim to have hundreds of thousands of suppliers, but in many cases, the number of truly active vendors is less than 10 percent of the number claimed.
  • The privacy and security restrictions that an application, network or marketplace has (or does not have). For example, OB10/Tungsten and Ariba are able to do more with either user specific or aggregate data in the marketplace / network based on a relatively loose user agreement compared with more restrictive covenants in other agreements that do not enable the same sharing of information with either network participants or third parties (all of which could potentially provide value-added services) around the core offerings available today.
  • The ongoing sustainability of business models. For example, Fieldglass and IQNavigator, along with their vendor management system (VMS) competitors, have proven out the sustainability of a relatively high supplier-paid volume-based fee model until now. There is industry validation for this model. There is not the same commonality of validation for the value-based fees in the Ariba/SAP network model for indirect spend by comparison; in contrast, Ariba’s competitors based their pricing on alternative models.

There’s no question that B2C valuations are once again silly. And my guess is B2B is next. But the question remains: how we will value organizations when all the tried-and-true methods taught for decades in finance 101 courses goes the way of bad eighties music being played – this time through Pandora, iTunes and Spotify – on the 101 between San Francisco and San Jose.

Wait a minute … the 80s music is back and more alive than ever. In fact, the drivers for last two UberX rides that I took both had XM radio blasting Tears for Fears and INXS from the “80s” station.

Which of course can only mean one thing – the bubble is back.

- See more at: http://spendmatters.com/2014/02/21/facebooks-whatsapp-acquisition-new-bubble-valuing-b2b-companies-new-metrics/#sthash.FqOsaiNu.dpuf

Allegiance for Hire

10ahn-master675Hyun-soo Ahn was one of South Korea’s most decorated short-track speed skaters (5 World Championships and 3 golds at 2006 Olympics), so why did he change his name to Viktor Ahn and is now skating for Russia?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/sports/olympics/ahn-rejected-us-to-skate-for-russia.html?hpw&rref=sports&_r=0

What NY Times failed to understand…  Sports federations in South Korea are like mini-mobs (maybe even worse).  There have been allegations of abuse of power, misappropriation of funds, physical mistreatment of athletes, etc.  I heard rumors that Ahn wasn’t supposed to win his 3rd gold at ’06 Olympics, rather it was supposed to go to one of his teammates so that he too could be exempt from mandatory military service (with mandatory military conscription, you are exempt if you win an Olympic gold).  Instead, Ahn competed like any athlete should, whether Pop Warner or world-class…  For that South Korean Skating Federation full of bureaucrats and fat cats, made Ahn’s life hell and disowned him when he was seriously injured ’08 and missed 2010 winter games.  Now Viktor Ahn is winning medals for Russia at Sochi and could become one of the most decorated short-track speed skaters of all time.  Talk about karma…  Good for Viktor (and 61% of South Koreans surveyed agree)…

Customer Service and Manners

CaptureGreetings from SFO Red Carpet Club.  There were days, pre-marriage and definitely pre-kids, when I enjoyed flying, whether for work or for leisure…   And the Star Alliance network, led by United Airline (now United Continental Holdings) provided the widest reach.  Fast forward a few years (after a couple of 200K+ annual air mile years and joining million miler club) and marriage and kids, I now fly only when needed and necessary.  So when I logged on almost 50K miles in the last 60 days (no I am not trying to reach 2MM miler club), it was like learning a new trick all over again.  Here’s what I’ve learned…

  • Automatic Premier Gold status for million-miler does not get you whole lot, except for premier check-in line.  No wonder while back, a United million-miler sued the airline for breach of contract (before the merger, million lifetime miles got you premier executive, not premier gold status).  I feel like I’m treated better by Star Alliance member airlines when I am traveling abroad that United, which I have most loyalty to.
  • US flight attendants really do need a lesson in customer service.  Just because you start the sentence with either sir or ma’am that does not excuse rest of the sentence / paragraph that comes out of your mouth.  Specifically, a couple of flight attendants in my recent flight from ORD to SFO were behaving like two frat boys at division II schools.  It was embarrassing…
  • My recent flights on KAL, Singapore and Asiana served to only affirm my view.  Of particular note, I caught an Asiana flight attendant cleaning the lavatories during downtime so that the customers can have more pleasant flying experience.  25+ years of flying domestic airlines, I’ve never seen any domestic flight attendant do the same.

I can certainly empathize with tight margins and cut-throat environment that depicts the airline industry (I was an early guy at Orbitz so I do have some insight).  But it just seems like many US flight attendants, especially those with senority, have given up and are just going through the motions and are waiting for retirement (with apologies to those flight attendants who care and bust their butts to do their job right)…  Much like networking, customer service is just good humanity.  It has to be something you want to do and take pride in.  So what’s my solution?  Depressed million miler benefit combined with poor customer service, I don’t have much choice except to fly Star Alliance network airlines instead of United on international flights.  Then again I do have 500K miles on American…  Perhaps time to try a different domestic airline?

SMB and Outside Capital

devil in suitAll my start-ups after Orbitz were boot-strapped, so I get rather passionate about this topic.  Whenever inquiries come in from small business owners regarding the logistics of getting outside capital – valuation expectations; how much control to relinquish; what changes in operating agreement are necessary; re-classing voting rights and shares; guaranteed distributions regardless of performance (sort of like Jay Cutler’s new deal); etc. – I ask one simple question.  Why do you think you need outside capital?  Often, I’m dismayed by the answers I hear back…  They range from funds for rainy days to taking money off the table for the founders.  One thing you need to realize, it’s irrelevant why you think you need outside capital.  Investors will only invest if prospects meet their investment thesis in addition to meeting a couple of crucial criteria.

  • Management team in place – if it comes down to poorer business model with great executive team vs. great business model with poor executive team, investors will always choose the former over the latter.  There’s no such thing as great business with poor management – it won’t last.  Lesson for business owners – choose your management team wisely as your business grows.
  • Scalable business model – investors will invest if exponential return in COGS investment can be forecasted, e.g. there’s significant operating leverage.  Whether the business is technology-based or processes-based, business owners will have to demonstrate that an investor do not need to continue to spend corresponding OPEX dollars in order for it to grow.

So really think about why you need outside money and what you will use it for before approaching / accepting the capital.  Besides, there’s some truth to old saying – taking VC funds is like making a deal with the devil – do really want or need to do that?

2013 in review for SMBmatters.com

The WordPress.com stats helpers prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  While our traffic may be minute compared to our sister sites (www.spendmatters.com, http://www.metalminer.com, etc.), we are truly encouraged by the site’s global reach, leveraging technology.  We started SMBmatters as a forum for eclectic content for small and medium size business owners – hopefully some articles are relevant, many often not, but all entertaining.   In 2014, we promise to publish more original content, re-blog useful thought leadership and welcome more guest writers.  Thanks – and again, happy 2014!

Click here to see the complete report.

Death of Fox & Obel

photo (63)I’ve written many “Death of” articles – death of Blackberry, death of the penny, death of the Encyclopedia Britannica. But this one really hurts…

Before Mariano’s Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe’s (I’m still mad at them for not giving me an opportunity to interview after I submitted an application at a different point in my life out West, but that’s a story for another time), there was Fox & Obel, the Chicago-based, River East mainstay for over a decade. With rumored celebrity investors like Scottie Pippen, 5 dollar per ounce olive oil, truffle tasting stations, in-house wet and dry aged meats (initially the only grocer that carried Tall Grass Beef from Red Buffalo Ranch, owned by Bill Curtis), top-notch wine and apéritif lists, hard-to-find regional and international accoutrements, and a Zagat-rated cafe attached, people had flocked to what is arguably the first high-end grocery store in Chicagoland. And this was despite its sky-high prices (trust me, much worse than Whole Paycheck, I meant Whole Foods).

Manning the bakery was Phyllis, a lovely woman and native of South Africa who never hesitated to scold rude customers, who took it. There was Martha, the ever-smiling assistant manager greeting patrons as they walked in and out. And Juanita, café manager and a single mother (her son’s a star athlete at a local Catholic school). Juanita knew exactly how you liked your coffee. Fox & Obel managed the unlikely balance of Chicago Gold Coast uppity-up-ness with a neighborhood feel. My business partner (of Spend Matters fame) Jason Busch Ioved the bakery so much that its muffins, pastries and bread made it into our formal LLC operating agreement for our Spend Matters advisory business (i.e., written into the agreement was that one partner had to “stop at the Fox and Obel” bakery before business meetings – I kid you not, and yes we did honor the agreement!) Unfortunately, it’s now time to amend it.

For a while we’d heard rumors of additional investors, new stores in the downtown area, North American expansion. Then bam: the bottom fell out.

My wife Jenna and I walked around the closing sales event with heavy hearts. To Jenna and me, this was not just a grocery store – Tsige cooked for us, Sue babysat our kids, and on Friday afternoons I used to bring my RJSL and Spend Matters colleagues treats from the Fox & Obel bakery. So what happened? I can certainly make a few hypotheses.

  • Decreasing passion and sense of mission – After initial success, the original founders cashed out to private equity investors. And I could sense a gradual decline in quality over the past few years. Does that mean every buyout spells doom for those acquired? No, but it does mean that if cash flow buyers (as opposed to strategic acquirers) focus too much on the short-term bottom line, it will erode the X-factor that made the establishment special.
  • Hiccups in execution – It could be as minor as less crust on what used to be their signature almond croissant (Jenna noticed it after a new pastry chef came on board; the long-time head quit when his paycheck bounced), as major as multiple health code violations (fruit flies in food preparation stations is what I’ve heard), and everything in between, such as failure to pay electricity bills on time.
  • Poor inventory – Along with declining quality, I noticed that shelves were becoming emptier. No longer was Fox & Obel the go-to place for hard-to-find items, and even its staple trappings were sometimes missing, a cardinal sin for a grocery store. I am not a grocery industry expert by any stretch of the imagination, but even I could see tension between Fox & Obel and its suppliers.
  • Erosion of the foundation – No disrespect to technology and process (many economists claim these are the only two factors that could push the famed EFPC – efficient frontier production curve – outward), but people make up every business’s foundation, regardless of the segment. Again, towards the end, I heard grumblings from Fox & Obel’s employees. Perhaps they trusted me since I was a regular, but nonetheless, I never heard any complaints over the first few years.

I could go on and on, but it won’t bring Fox & Obel back. Furthermore, I think these causes of their failure are a good lesson for just about any business. And in case you were wondering what Jenna and I bought at the final closing sale, we stocked up on Fox & Obel water glasses and Mexican Coca Cola, made with real sugar. Coincidently, the sourcing of Mexican coke is a great personal procurement lesson – which involves having to pay significantly more for a far superior product (which also requires seeking out) albeit with the same corporate brand.

I promise to tackle more cheerful topics for the rest of 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.

We’ll also let you know what new Chicago bakery (La Fournette is highest on our current list) that Jason and I decided to amend and include in our operating agreement so that the entire Spend Matters and MetalMiner office continue to remain well-fed and sugared-up.

Emotional Intelligence and Project Manager

PMAs you may know, PARR has a sister company in RJSL Group, an IT and business PMO consulting shop.  I’ve been a project manager (PM) since my Diamond Technology Partners days, and I believe good PM skill-set is a must for any manager, regardless of his or her corporate function.  Over the years, I’ve also learned that especially when it comes to PM, emotional intelligence (EI) is more important than either intellectual abilities or any specialized, functional trainings combined.  EI separates great PM from good ones and can be defined as the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups so that they are expressed appropriately and effectively, enabling people to work together smoothly toward their common goals.  According to many experts, major skills that make up EI are – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

So, how does a PM use EI?  First, project management by nature entails a highly collaborative undertaking, often extending the scope beyond prescribed boundaries.  One of the key skill-set for a great PM is the ability to influence stakeholders globally.  More specifically, project’s success depends on the PM’s ability to influence and persuade team members and stakeholders, who often do not report directly to the project owner and have very different agenda, on numerous behavioral and emotional levels.  No matter how you slice it, this requires a large degree of EI on the part of the PM.  Second, every project introduces some degree of organizational changes in order to achieve a desired outcome. The impact of change on those who are affected can be championed or rejected based on the project manager’s leadership, prompting the PM to serve as an emotional guide throughout the process.  PMs often make on-the-fly adjustments to build and maintain positive relationships while motivating and focusing others to achieve success.

As all PMs know, the ability to develop and sustain relationships leads to successful project results. Understanding EI and honing our own EI provides an invaluable edge in building the relationships necessary to excel within the project management profession.

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