The Complete “Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class” Arc

Note: this was a thirty part post arc in which J answered student questions. We’re reposting because J references it in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and he’s the boss, we do what he says. Most times.

UMass Lowell and Strategic Management

I was very honored today to be asked to sit in on UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management classes. These classes are taught by Dr. Martin Moser, a gentleman I’ve mentioned before in my blogs. The classes are working on some very interesting ideas; marketing UMass Lowell as a product to a very targeted audience — high school juniors. As Dr. Moser is going to be passing this post onto his students, I’m hoping they’ll feel free to post their comments and thoughts (and hopefully pointers to their marketing materials, if they’re allowed) here so others can get an idea of what these students are doing.

I could tell you I was blown away by the competence, expertise and skill of these students and I still wouldn’t be doing them justice. They are constructing videos of their lives at UMass Lowell, highly informative, definitely intimate (meaning one-on-one), and very personable. These videos are going on different social networking sites as a means of promoting the school. This is the brainchild of Dr. Moser and is being encouraged by Associate Vice Chancellor Joyce Gibson and Dean Tom Taylor. My purpose for attending the class was to provide some feedback on their marketing efforts and to do some field research on how that generation is thinking.

I’m not going to go into how bright, how professional, this and that. Take it for granted. What truly impressed me was that these students were so willing to learn. When I offered a response to a video they asked for explanations and follow up thoughts. Their questions were both reasonable and insightful. They were thinking! They impressed me. One student recognized the differences involved in gender-based marketing and asked how to deal with them. Other students were aware that certain things would work well for their target but not for older audiences — that’s right, they understood age-based demographics.

Okay and yes. If students are learning how to produce marketing material they should be aware of these concepts. There is, however, a broad difference between learning something, being aware of it, and putting it into practice and understanding how what they’re doing works in a business environment.

My hat’s off to the students, Dr. Moser and UMass Lowell for supporting this learning.

I also promised the students that I’d provide links for them on the various things we were talking about. Those follow at the bottom of this post.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class

A few days back I wrote UMass Lowell and Strategic Management and what a pleasure it was to meet with the students and learn what they were doing (creating online videos to market UMass Lowell to prospective students).

Imagine my pleasure when one of the students emailed me her thanks!

The student, Robyn, wrote:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come to our Strategic Management class. It was great to hear an outsider’s point of view on our project. You gave us many great insights like the idea placing two people in one shot to show a sense of belongingness. Also researching into the local concert arenas to find up coming events, this is much more compelling. My group, The Usual Suspects, has already been working on a way to put them into our video. Once again thank you and I hope to have the chance to learn from you again!

Let me write again that I was very impressed by all the student videos. They handled my critiques well. As I told them, “I’m talking to you as I would a client who asked us to come in and help them.” The students took my critiques far better than some clients do and (I’m sure) far better than I would have under similar circumstances.

These students are people to watch. Companies should be talking with them now because they won’t stay on the job market long with the skills they displayed in that class.

Other readers of this blog and my IMediaConnection column have written to let me know that my work is must reading or research for their ecommerce, design and media strategies classes. I’m flattered!

Please feel free to contact NextStage (we’re on LinkedIn, Twitter and Skype) if you’d like one of us to visit your class. We learn as much from these experiences as the students involved.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Jessica

I’ve received several emails from UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management class students since my visit, which I documented in some previous posts. I’m going to be sharing the students’ emails and encouraging them to post on my blog in order to get some attention for what they’re doing.

First up, this from Jessica…

Thank you for taking the time to meet with my Strategic Management class. Your knowledge and insight provided me with a great learning experience that will help my team and I kaizen our videos. I learned that intimacy is the key to social structure, two people in a video creates interaction (which then produces intimacy) and interest is captured by telling people what’s going to happen, not what already happened. I hope I will have another chance to learn from you in the future.

The pleasure was mine, Jessica, and I hope we have an opportunity to learn from each other again, as well.

Remember that the “two people” rule applied to the video we were discussing. I think I mentioned to another class that a single narrator can also imply intimacy by how they talk to the camera, and also if there’s an offscreen “someone” the narrator is talking to. This offscreen someone can respond to the narrator with small words (“yeah”, “uh-huh”, “right”) and be the viewer’s surrogate. This gives the viewer cues as to how they should be responding to the material, as well.

Again, thanks to the class and more to follow.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Chad

This is another student email from UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management class. I’m going to be sharing the students’ emails and encouraging them to post on my blog in order to get some attention for what they’re doing.

This time, from Chad…

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to take part in our Strategic Management workshop.  All your suggestions and ideas were really helpful, and I really feel that our group has a better understanding of what we are aiming to accomplish with this project. I hope you enjoyed yourself and I hope I am lucky enough to learn from you again soon. Thanks for everything.

As written before, the pleasure was mine. I do hope that readers of this blog who are potential employers of these students are taking notice. These students are learning a multitude of marketing and production skills which will serve them well as Web 2.0 marketing and advertising comes forward.

Again, thanks to the class and more to follow.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Julianne

This post is from Julianne, a student in UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management class. I’m sharing the students’ emails and encouraging them to post on my blog in order to get some attention for what they’re doing.

My name is Julianne and I am a senior at UMass Lowell, majoring in management and marketing. I am in Dr. Moser’s 2:30 Strategic Management class and I wanted to thank you for taking the time to visit with us.

I thought your anecdotes provided very critical information for improving our videos – just because they are well edited doesn’t mean they are going to get the job done. My group has already started thinking of new video ideas and we’re going to leave the editing for when we absolutely need it.

If you have the time, I would love for you to visit the class again. We will be creating videos for the rest of the semester – I’m sure there will be points along the way where your feedback would be very important.

Thank you again for visiting our class. I was a true pelasure and a wonderful learning experience.

My pleasure, Julianne.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Jonroy

This post is from Jonroy, one of the UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management students. I’m sharing the students’ emails and encouraging them to post on my blog in order to get some attention for what they’re doing.

I appreciate you taking the time to educate our class on Thursday.  It is always good to get feedback from a third party. It reaffirms the trust we have in Professor Moser.  Your input has helped me to improve our project, and help my group move in the right direction.  I look forward to your next visit.

My pleasure, Jonroy.

Some of the students have sent me links to their projects which I’ll be sharing in future posts. Stay tuned.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – James

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to take part in our Strategic Management workshop.  All your suggestions and ideas were really helpful, and I really feel that our group has a better understanding of what we are aiming to accomplish with this project. I hope you enjoyed yourself and I hope I am lucky enough to learn from you again soon. Thanks for everything.

As written before, the pleasure was mine. I do hope that readers of this blog who are potential employers of these students are taking notice. These students are learning a multitude of marketing and production skills which will serve them well as Web 2.0 marketing and advertising comes forward.

Again, thanks to the class and more to follow.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Vishesh

I’m continuing with the emails from UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management students in the hopes of bringing them and their work some attention. Readers interested in their work or getting in touch with the students should either email me directly or post a comment here. I’ll be sure to pass things along in either case.

Vishesh writes:

I would like to thank you for taking out time from your busy schedule and attending our Strategic Management class on Thursday. I could gather from your conversation towards our class, that you are an astute observer. I guess that’s one of the qualities you have to posses when you are in a competitive field like marketing&research.
“I would also captivated by the concept of straight line (between the consumers and the producers) which was mentioned by you, how to advertise your product to the right consumer in the shortest possible way (without deviation).

“Your comments on our presentation were very encouraging and that will help us kaizen our product for our final consumers. For example, you mentioned that we should have shown students eating in a restaurant and not just engaging in a conversation, I think that makes the video more compelling and adds to the creditability of the video.

“The same concept has been emphasized by Prof. Moser several times in class.

I had a chance to review some of your links like Improve Website Performance and Online Sales Increase [[these papers are available to NextStage Members]] and I found those to be interesting and spend some more time on those links as that that could be a benchmark for our final product (Space 2). I would like to thank you again and hope to see you see you again in one of our classes.

No problem, Vishesh. Happy to help.

Vishesh’s comment about the “straight line between consumers and producers has to do with making sure the consumer (a website visitor, for example) has the straightest, cleanest possible path between finding the product they want and purchasing the product. In other words, once you’ve identified a prospect as being in the buying cycle, remove all distractions from helping them achieve their goal of purchasing the product.

A direct application of this is knowing your target audience well enough to ensure correct product placement. Doing so insures the correct audience being both branded by the product and impacted enough to act upon the information presented.

The comment about eating has to do with visually showing a credible event. I.E., if you have people in a restaurant, somebody has to be eating, food has to be being served, waitstaff have to be moving around, people have to be at the counter ordering, … something has to be going on in either fore- or back-ground so that the sense of the place is transmitted to the audience. Showing people simply talking with no other activity doesn’t have as much impact. The moral is, whenever you show people at some specific place, something has to be going on indicative of that place so that the viewer has context within which to understand the conversation or events going on.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Astrid, Demonstrating Reasons to be Interested

This post is an email from Astrid, a UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management student.

Astrid writes:

I would just like to thank you for attending my Strategic Management class last Thursday at 2:30pm. Your insights and advice on our video clips was very helpful and now I have a better understanding to as how to kaizen our clips for the project.

For example, I now understand that we cannot simply mention the name of a place and expect High school students to know what we mean. We need to strip the name and be more specific as to simply say that UML has baseball to offer rather than say LeLacheur park. This is one of many of your insights that I will use to Kaizen our project. Once again, thank you, and I hope to have the opportunity to receive your expertise again.

Very good, Astrid.

What this deals with is cultural consciousness. Any institution or brand will have its own culture and much about that institution or brand is known to everyone in that culture, hence “cultural consciousness.”

Convincing people to participate in that institution or brand involves giving them a reason — something they understand from their present cultural vantage point — and demonstrating that its available to them from the new cultural vantage point.

People (as a rule) are resistant to change. Doing something like this — showing familiarity and known — goes a long way to helping people through “change” situations. This is true if they’re experiencing change in their friends, family, work, environment, whatever.

Nicely done, Astrid. Good work.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Jaimes, Put Action Onscreen to Demonstrate Community and Belonging

This post is from Jaimes, one of UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management students.

Jaimes writes:

Thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule to come in to our Strategic Management class last Thursday. Your critique of our video (to make sure there are people in the background) really helped us. We certainly are much better off having learned from your insights. I hope to possibly see you again.

My pleasure, Jaimes.

One of the purposes of the videos these students are creating is to show potential students that a community — a “belonging” — exists at UMass Lowell. An easy way to show this is to have people doing something in the background of their videos. This background action shouldn’t be distracting, only demonstrative. For example, have people walking in groups, laughing, smiling, or talking intently yet in a friendly way. “Belonging” and a sense of community stem from people believing they’re providing worth to the community.

Nicely done, Jaimes.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Saroeung, 3 Seconds Applies to Video, too

Saroeung, one of the UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management students, already posted a comment to [[sorry, the comment’s lost]] Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Jonroy. I responded there that I’d be getting to her email soon and here it is.

Your visit to our Strategic class on Thursday has taught us a lot about the important elements of an effective video. In order for our video to capture the students’ mind we have to weigh the time and tone of the speaker very carefully in which for the first couple of seconds the students will be connected with the message we’re trying to say, thus drawing a straight line with the audience.

Furthermore, your article on “You’ve Only Got 3 Seconds” advised us on the importance of how far we would go in order to know our consumer, which of course psychology comes in handy.

Thank you for attending our class and we hope to see you again in the near future.

No problem, Saroeung.

Saroeung is correct. The first moments of interaction, whether in video, brochures, websites, whatever the marketing material is, is crucial. This is something I’ll be covering in more detail in my Quantifying and Optimizing the Human Side of Online Marketing [[[[these presentations are available to NextStage Members]] presentation at the San Francisco Emetrics Summit in May ’07.

One of the ways to insure interaction between marketing material and target audience is, as Saroeung writes, to make sure the tone of the material — in this case, the video’s narrator — matches the tone normally used by the target audience and matching the pacing (“time”) of the material to match the normal cognitive, behavioral/effective and motivational matrix of the target audience.

Very good, Saroeung. I hope to see you folks again soon, too.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Chau, Don’t Stage a FoodFight Unless it Gets Your Message Across

Chau is one of the UMass Lowell‘s Strategic Management students. Chau wrote:

It was unfortunate that I couldn’t make it to the meeting on Thursday. I’m one of the people that was responsible for the filming and putting the videos together. I tried my best to make the videos convey what my group were thinking since I’m the IT department, sort of.

One of the things that my group mentioned to me was that in our video of FOOD, you said that someone needs to be eating. Looking back, I notice that no one was actually eating and the restaurant was just us. I will take it into consideration to add all those missing elements in our next video. We actually had all those clips, but didn’t use them thinking they weren’t important. Thank you for attending my Strategic Management class and I hope I get a second chance to meet you.

My pleasure, Chau.

I wrote about implying action and community in a restaurant setting in Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Jaimes, Put Action Onscreen to Demonstrate Community and Belonging.

Regardless of what got into the video and what didn’t, you’re learning how to make things better and that’s what’s important. Even if people aren’t eating in a restaurant, something has to be happening with food to give viewers a sense of the place. I’m not suggesting you stage a foodfight, just letting you know that food needs to be in there somehow.

Talk to you later, Chau.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Jeff Attract and Stick

Jeff is one of the UMass Lowell's Strategic Management students. Jeff wrote:

Thank you again for taking time to visit my Strategic Management class. Your critiques and ideas about our Downtown Lowell video were much appreciated. I really liked your idea of using a think, attract, and stick approach for marketing. Your visit will definitely improve the quality of our project.
In the future I hope to have the opportunity to work with you again.

I hope so, too, Jeff.

Jeff's reference to attract and stick comes from a discussion about how to make online videos and other marketing material attract the correct audience and then insure that the correct audience will stick to the material (not move on to a competitor's material or site).

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Michael, Paying Attention to Your Audience

One of the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students, Michael, wrote me a few paragraphs which I share here. I’m very impressed by his email and has nothing to do with what he actually wrote so much as the link he included at the end of his email.

Prospective employers, take note:

I greatly appreciate your willingness to share your time and expertise with us. It has not only illuminated my understanding of our project but also of my career and business in general.

I asked you during class about the makings of a credible script. Your insights of how movie actors are merely given direction and goals and then just “go with it” and that a two hour hollywood movie can be created from only 93 pages of script hit me right between the eyes.

Within an hour after our class, I came up with over 10 messages I realized my team’s video needed to obtain and over 30 interview questions to get us there, as well as some ‘non-acting’ artistic shots as well. My team will spilt up into three groups, each having a camera and take the campus by storm on Tuesday. Its amazing how much energy comes when you ‘get it.’ THANK YOU!
Thank you for the informational arbitrage opportunity you have allowed me through connecting me to your articles (note to readers: you can find the list of articles on UMass Lowell and Strategic Management). I enjoy the possibility of being one of the few ‘finance guys’ who is aware of your marketing research and what it will allow me to bring to my employers.

I intend to express my appreciation by more than just saying thank you. I will seek to bring you business as I through referring colleges and future employers to your services and research. I hope to afford you more time for your research and less time for marketing, as you expressed in class.

What really impressed me was that Michael included a link to his homepage and resume.

Yes, I’m flattered by what Michael wrote, but I’m impressed that he included a link to his resume. Michael did something I encourage others to do when I give presentations on knowing your audience, pay attention to your audience if you want them to pay attention to you.

In this case, I mentioned that I find myself doing business development more and more and research less and less.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Matt, Michael, Daniel and Frank, Demonstrating Intimacy and Immediacy in Online Video

This post includes emails from four UMass Lowell Strategic Management students, Matt, Michael, Daniel and Frank. We start with Matt:

I would like to thank you for taking interest in our Admissions project. Your views have helped my team kaizen our video to show more intimacy. Once again, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and I look forward to the possible opportunity to learn from you again.

Matt is going to make one of the classes’ videos available and I’ll include a link in a blog post shortly.
Now onto Michael, Daniel and Frank…

From Michael:

Thank you for taking the time to visit our Strategic Management class. I found your advice about the marketing aspect of our project to be very helpful. I look forward to learning from you again in the future.

From Daniel:

I want to thank you for taking the time to visit my Strategic Management class this past Thursday. Your advice about realism, intimacy, and especially gender specific marketing is invaluable. That information provided me with several ideas that will benefit not only our group, but the class as a whole. Thank you again and I look forward to learning from you in the near future.

And from Frank:

I wanted to thank you for attending our 2:30 Strategic Management class on March 22. Your professional insight into how our videos can be improved to better reach our target market was invaluable.
One key insight that I had overlooked was the importance of being intimate with the audience. I had originally thought that if you just had videos of a person being interviewed it would be boring to the audience. I had overlooked the fact that this can be used as a powerful way to lock in the viewer. It would be great if you could come back to view our finished product.

Demonstrating intimacy and it’s twin, immediacy, is a necessary part of convincing an audience that your product or service is a) what they need and b) important to them now. I’ve mentioned intimacy in previous posts in this thread.

I’ll be sharing methods for demonstrating intimacy and immediacy on my next visit to the class. Perhaps one of the students will video the session and we can post that here, too.

What do you say, students?

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Erik, Place Brands and Operational Branding

This post is based on an email from Erik, a UMass Lowell Strategic Management student. Erik wrote:

Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to to help us work on our myspace projects for admissions. Though your responses were not exactly what i was hoping for your insight on our dorm life video and its inability to create an intimate experience for the viewer will be very helpful in the final weeks of this project. Once these projects are ready for final submission it would be great, if you have the opportunity, to come back again and see our progress.

First, glad to be of help (I hope).

Second, what Erik is writing about is that his team produced a great video, but not a great video for their target audience. I suggested that his group keep the video they did produce on the back burner because (I’m sure) someday it’ll come in handy.

What this deals with is Place Brand and Operational Branding.

A Place Brand is traditionally “A place brand is tied to a geographic location. It uses classic marketing practices to establish a presence that reflects the values, language, ways of thinking and responding to information, etc., to create economic value. The ideal place brand reflects a geographic location’s cultural identity while separating itself from competitive products. This often goes beyond traditional branding concepts of logo and slogan.”

Whether Erik and the other students realize it or not, they’re doing place branding. The “place” their branding is the age-demographic of the UMass Lowell target audience.

Just so we’re clear on the concept, I’m not using “Place Brand” to mean branding UMass Lowell, I’m talking about the psychological place the age-specific demographic lives in. Recognizing conceptual spaces and psychological places are having meaning and (near) physical reality to a given audience is something NextStage often does for clients and I was happy to provide that insight to the UML students.

The other element (and here’s where Erik’s group was a little weak) was the operational branding elements of their video.

Operational branding is defined as “the process of consistently and accurately branding in the language and culture of the target audience while maintaining corporate strategy. Operational branding is the method of creating successful place brands.”

Operational branding often makes use of three elements:

  1. Know your audience (really well)
  2. Synchronize your place brand to what you know really well about your audience
  3. Engage alternate channels to create value in the place brand

My concern with Erik’s group’s video was in the second item above.

Again, it was a good video, I just questioned whether it was the best video for operational branding purposes.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Laura, Show Real Life Really Happening

This post is from UMass Lowell Strategic Management student Laura.
Laura wrote:

>Our group is grateful for your visit to our Strategic Management class. We took your pointers about editing the material in our video, and it was interesting to see your point of view about the tour of the rec center and actually showing the actions as we are talking about them. Your insights will be carried throughout the rest of the semester. We hope to see you again soon.

Again, glad to be of help.
Laura’s group’s video had a narrator describing what goes on in the rec center. Behind the narrator, completely unrehearsed and totally natural, were people doing rec centerish things; playing games badly, laughing, making fun of each other…being completely natural.

The goal of these videos is to demonstrate the UMass Lowell experience as a positive experience and true real life is the best way to do it.

Nicely done, Laura.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Christopher, Anjali, TeamKaizen and using what you’re learning to learn more. Good work and nicely done!

This post is from UMass Lowell Strategic Management student Laura.

Christopher wrote:

I’d like to take a minute to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to come and sit in for our class to give us feedback on our project. With the advice you gave to our team with keeping our videos intimate, we were able to come up with some great videos this afternoon. Again, thank you for your help, and I look forward to learning more from you through your blog.

Next is Anjali:

Thank you for taking the time to visit my Strategic Management class. Your thoughts have really got my group thinking. We are now considering a whole new direction for our videos based on your comments. I hope you will have a chance to look at our final products, we would be honored to have you share your knowledge and insight with us again.

And from TeamKaizen, the first video the class is letting me share and this blog’s first video from these students!

Good work, all!

I’m impressed by two things in this video thank you note and neither has to do with it being directed towards me. First, these students took the time to put it out there and second, they made use of what they’re learning to learn more. UMass Lowell has invited me back to work with these students again and I’m looking forward to it.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Joseph, William, Tension and Purpose

This post is from some more UMass Lowell Strategic Management students, Joseph and William.

First up, Joseph:

I greatly appreciate your attending our class last week, it was great to hear about the different marketing techniques we can use to get our videos out to our prospects. I will also be sure to focus on keeping 2 people in the frame when we our taping to have some contrast between the actors. Please consider returning to our class (either to see our finished product or to gain more insight into the younger generation!) at some point this semester, it is always a beneficial experience to have professional insight into our endeavors.

Joseph’s comment about keeping two people in the frame deals with adding some “energy”, what is sometimes called “dramatic tension”, simply by the interaction and dialogue of two people who are directing their focus to a third person (the viewer) who’s completely external to the frame of reference (the video). The two people in the frame can be simply talking and their differences in presentation style will often be non-consciously picked up by people viewing the video as adding something to the presentation.

Next up, William:

I would like to extend my appreciation for taking the time to speak at my Strategic Management class. Your discussion regarding the discrepancies between management perception and public perception were of particular interest to me. I plan to utilize the concepts you elaborated on in my immediate and long-term futures. I hope to have the opportunity to learn from you again.

William’s reference to public versus management perception came from a discussion about how marketing perceives a product versus management’s intention for a product. Marketing has the difficult task of taking something serving a strategic purpose (management’s intention for a product, even a short term product, is to create long-term brand affinity) and making that product very “now-worthy” in the consumer’s mind.

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Michael, Ana and Taj, Cluster Production, Action and Intimacy

This post is from some more UMass Lowell Strategic Management students, Michael, Ana and Taj.

First up, Michael:

Thanking you for taking the time sit in and discuss production/marketing issues with our Strategic Management class last Thursday. Your views and advice on “cluster production” were helpful for my team to determine which videos were effective and which videos fell short of the objective. I also found your real world examples of marketing to be educative, especially the bit about how marketing and managements perception of a product can differ and how that affects the final marketing pitch. I believe motion-picture media is an effective form of marketing, and your “John Q. Public” opinion was very valuable for our group’s video analysis. I hope our class has the opportunity to have an audience with you soon again in the future.

No problem, Michael. Glad to be of help. “Cluster production” is part of audience knowledgeable design and involves 1) a deep knowledge of the target audience followed by 2) a thematic, cross platform approach to marketing to that audience.

Next up, Ana:

I would like to thank you for taking time out of your schedule to attend our class meeting last Thursday. My team and I really appreciate the insight you gave us in kaizening our team project video. Your emphasis on the important role intimacy plays and the links you sent us have given us a better understanding on marketing strategically that I know will definitely benefit us in the future.
Hoping to have the opportunity to learn and get more feedback from you soon.

My pleasure, Ana. I’m looking forward to your next release.

And this from Taj:

Thank you for finding the the time to come and share your important insights with our Strategic Management class. Your comments about highlighting action concepts in Space two, changed the way my group is approaching the True Entertainment section. It would be great if you could check up on us later on in the semester, to see how well we have digested your views.

I’m looking forward to it!

More from this class to follow…

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Kimberly, Christian, Kelly and Charles

This post is from some more UMass Lowell Strategic Management students, Kimberly, Christian, Kelly and Charles.

First up, Kimberly:

Thank you for joining my Strategic Management class this past Thursday. Your thoughts and comments about our project have been very helpful. Your presence gave the class an even more real-world feel than normal and it pushes me to take the project more seriously. In past classes, my projects were designed to provide a new learning experience and receiving a good grade was the only drive to do well . However, this project will produce actual results that will benefit the university, so it was important for me to see the university taking it seriously as well.

Excellent realization, Kimberly. You should be proud of yourself.

Next up, Christian:

Thank you for taking time off from your schedule to visit my Strategic Management class. Your input throughout the class was extremely helpful and has already helped my group change the way we are filming our video. We found that the little details you pointed out are very important to the success of our video. Thank you again for taking the time to join us last week.

My pleasuere, Christian. Next comes Kelly:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit my Strategic Management class at UMass Lowell on Thursday, March 29th. I appreciate that you are interested in helping us make our projects a success. It was a wonderful experience to hear your thoughts and insights.

“I was most interested to hear your thoughts on website construction. The target market for our project is high school juniors and seniors. They may not be interested in viewing a dull college website so we have to capture their interest in the first three seconds so that they stay on our page.

“Thank you again. I hope to have the opportunity to learn more from you again very soon. It was a pleasure.

Mine, too, Kelly. Excellent realizations about website design for your target audience. Very good! Now Charles:

Thank you for taking the time to visit my Strategic Management class. Your insights were very interesting, especially considering I am a marketing major and can learn from others experience. I’ve already come up with a few kaizens to our project. such things as intimacy, showing more then one person while taping, and trying to be as natural and unscripted as possible. They will definitely have a very positive impact our final deliverable. I hope to have the opportunity to learn from you again very soon.

You will, Charles. This week, in fact. See you Thursday.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Colleen’s Video

This post is from Colleen, a UMass Lowell Strategic Management student.

Colleen sent me a link to a video her group did. It’s a good piece of work on several counts. First, it gives a good sense of location and college atmosphere. The opening scenes can be made stronger by showing people walking around. This suggestion comes from knowing the target demographic likes the social aspects of college life (yes, I appreciate the irony of that statement given the past few days’ headlines).

The voiceover is good because it follows what’s happening “on screen” well. It can be made better by having the social aspects mentioned above also on screen and having the narrator’s voice commenting on that social aspect. The very act of doing so will tend to soften the voice and tone being presented.

Showing the action in the rec center is also good, again because the social aspect of college life is forefront. The killer scene is about 30 seconds in; someone’s being interviewed and someone walks behind them and, basically, acts like a college student. As they say in the Visa commercials, priceless.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – James and The Usual Suspect’s Video

This post is from James, a UMass Lowell Strategic Management student, and his “The Usual Suspects” team.

James sent me a link to the latest version of their video. Here’s his email to me. My response follows.

James writes:

This is James from Dr. Moser’s Strategic Management Class at 1 P.M.. I am looking forward to having you visit our class again tomorrow. I am not sure how much time we will have to show you our video so far, so here is the link. We have attempted to have at least two people in each scene, however due to the weather recently we have not been able to redo certain parts. There is still work that we need to do in perfecting the video, including adding the HTML links in the video, however we are currently working on eradicating the imperfections. See you tomorrow.

My response:

I’m sending this along to Dr. Gibson because we talked about just this aspect of promoting the school during our meeting today; a ‘video’ tour of what incoming students can expect. This comes very close. Those interviews are excellent and close to what I suggested to Dr. Gibson.

I also laughed my head off when the camera-person interrupted the narrator in the very first sequence with “This isn’t a dating video”!
You folks are going to be teaching me things, I’m sure.
See you all tomorrow

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 1

I had another opportunity to visit with UMass Lowell Strategic Management students about a week ago. They continue to do good work. One of the discussion topics was separating the marketing and sales channels. Many organizations see these departments as the same. I admit that there’s some overlap and the boundary has always been fairly clear and clean to me.

I’ve always thought of marketing’s job as to get people to “look at the menu”. This might involve getting them in the door, inviting them to take a seat and describing what the restaurant’s about and what to expect, introducing your waitperson and things like that. That’s pretty much where I think marketing stops.

Likewise, I’ve always thought of sales as the talented waitperson who describes what’s on the menu and the specials the chef’s got in the kitchen, takes your order, makes sure that what you’re ordering is something you’re going to like, makes suggestions for rounding out the meal, makes sure it arrives just as you expected and follows up in case you need anything else.

Yes, there is some overlap and it’s still basically the pitch and the close. Anyway, with that in mind, the students decided to host their own site and provide all the content in order to take their project to the next step.

What follows is my email encouraging their decision. The rest of this arc will be the back and forth as they and I learn how to best promote UMass Lowell to potential students.

Okay, now your real-world work begins.

First, what’s the overall goal of this work?

Once you’ve established the overall goal of the work, how does/will the TrueUML site contribute to meeting that goal? The YouTube site?

Which is your sales channel, which is your marketing channel?

Hint: Remember what I said
about the sales funnel? NextStage uses a much broader concept, The X Funnel (you can also read about sales funnels in Listening to and Seeing Searches). What part does each site play in your X Funnel?

I’d like to document your progress in my blog. BUT!!! that means the pressure is going to be on because people will be watching. If you’ve been on the NextStage Evolution site and read through our Principles, you know that I won’t knowingly put people in uncomfortable situations.

SO!!! I won’t document this effort unless you all want me to. Talk about this amongst yourselves and get back to me, preferably sooner rather than later.

Also, I’m going to start using some of the pictures you provided in your signature files on my blog and elsewhere. Let me know if you DON’T want me to use your pictures. I’ll use them unless I receive an email from you stating that I can’t.

And a last thing…I want you to know I listen to and learn from you, probably more than you might think. In the 2:30pm class (I think that was the one), we were talking about the game and one student and Dr. Moser provided some good reasons for not playing it as it was originally presented. Take a look at my signature file now and you’ll see that I’ve modified the advertising strategy.

See that? Old dogs can learn new tricks. Thanks to the class for teaching me something.


Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 2

This is part 2 in an arc based on my last visit with the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students about a week ago. I shared some questions I asked them in Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 1. Now we’ll start going over their answers.

1) what’s the overall goal of this work?
The goal of the piece our classes are contributing is “attraction”. Therefore, this class is working on the marketing part of the marketing and sales equation.

2) how does/will the TrueUML site contribute to meeting that goal?
This website will be used a medium to influence the prospective students in a way they are aware of their needs: freedom and belongingness. The layout of the website will follow the sales funnel concept in which the less serious, credible videos will be placed on the top center of the page whereas the more serious videos will be at the lower right corner. (this suggestion came from using NextStage’s Ad Placement tool in the class and getting student feedback on the results) The main focus here is to grasp the visitors’ attention and have them stay on the website.

3)The YouTube site?
Our videos will be uploaded to YouTube and be accessible for all viewers. It’s a great tool we can use to put UML on the market for potential students.

Nicely done!

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 3

This is part 3 in an arc based on my last visit with the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students about a week ago. I shared some questions I asked them in Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 1. This is the second posting of answers.

3) The YouTube site?
is another advertising resource available to us, where we can
upload the videos we have worked on so far. You tube is more attractive
to people between the ages of 16-25 and our ” target market” market is in the initial stages of that age group.

4) Which is your sales channel?
Sales channel would just include
as this is the only site that we have control over i.e we can accept
quarries, answer questions and the content upload on this website would
be according to what we think is attractive to high school students.
With the help Mr. Carrabis
( and his website) i’m sure we will be able to capture the attention of these young minds.

5) which is your marketing channel?
Marketing channel would be be the place where we target the maximum amount of people that would have to be myspace, youtube and now a new addition

Excellent answer to #5. Good work.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 4

This is part 4 in an arc based on my last visit with the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students about a week ago. I shared some questions I asked them in Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 1. This is the fourth posting of answers.

2) How does/will the TrueUML site contribute to meeting that goal?
It is a place that our target audience can see unfiltered information about U Mass Lowell. I’ll accept that and it’s best to understand the concept of branding at this point. It’s true, the target audience can see unfiltered information about UML. This means they’ll be able to find information you aren’t sponsoring. How can you make sure your target audience knows they’re getting your branded information and not a competitor’s?

3) The YouTube site?
you Tube is going to allow us to link the raw footage that we have to our site. By doing this, our potential students can see first hand the atmosphere and sentiment about the school. Very good.

4) Which is your sales channel?

I believe our sales channels are our MySpace page and website. With these two sites working hand in hand, it should be a very efficient way to attract students. Very good. I know you can control the content on TrueUML and that means you can do all your own branding there. How much control will you have of the MySpace look, feel, content, branding, etc? Hint: Think of which direction you want people to travel; MySpace to TrueUML or TrueUML to MySpace? Where do you want visitors to spend the bulk of their time?

5) which is your marketing channel?
Our marketing channels are the sites that are most often visited by out target audience. MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and such. Brilliant and very good.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 5

This is part 5 in an arc based on my last visit with the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students about a week ago. I shared some questions I asked them in Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 1. This is the fifth posting of answers and we start with a little dissent.

2) how does/will the TrueUML site contribute to meeting that goal?
I personally don’t think the TrueUML site will have THAT much of an effect since it will have pretty much the same contents as our MySpace. I’m sure we are not going to do anything different. Maybe if we redirect TrueUML site to the MySpace page, then I think that’s okay. is definitely easier to remember than I agree that if the two sites have much the same content, one is superfluous. A question, then, is “Should the two sites have the same content?”

3)The YouTube site?
Now this I think is the best way to get exposure since they get so many hits a day. I’ve seen people as old as 60 doing a video blog and kids as young as 7 acting goofy on cam. Also, instead of doing a text blog on MySpace, we can do video blog. All you need is a webcam. There are so many different markets here that we can target. Easiest way for people to find our videos is to make our keywords/tags short and precise. We can copy the link or embed the html code onto forums websites. Again, I agree. YouTube will get much more traffic in general than TrueUML. I think the difference is in what kind of traffic each site will get. YouTube is the mall, TrueUML is a store in the mall. So this leads to another question, me thinks, “How can we get people walking through the mall to come into our store?”

Excellent points leading to more questions. Good work and nicely done.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 6 and How a Class learns

This is part 6 in an arc based on my last visit with the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students. Because I entered their strategizing late my questions caused some confusion. This can also happen in business situations where a consulting organization is brought in after a project is done and is one of the reasons NextStage always works to be involved at the start of a project.

That offered, it’s exciting when such a situation exists and the players are able to incorporate the new tools the consulting group brings. An example of that is in this post. One group of students asked a question and another student was able to answer it.

The question:

This is James from your 1PM Strategic Management class. There is a little confusion between our group members about the TrueUML site. What is the purpose of this site? Is this to serve as the Space 3? The URL the 1PM class chose for the myspace site is If it is to serve as the space three, is this something that the admissions people will be working on to develop and they will be directed as what to include on the site? Also how did You Tube become one of Joseph’s questions? Correct me if i am wrong but i thought You Tube had nothing to do with our Space 2 except as a third party video hosting service provider. Thank you for your time.

This is an excellent question. Disregard the project specific jargon and notice that the question really is about clarifying the project objective; did the project goal and milestones change when the student wasn’t looking? James, the student, and his group are putting themselves in a truth to power situation. I hope they can continue to do so after graduation when they’re in a work environment.

The answer (also from a student):

I am a little confused myself now that you brought it up. But after reading other student’s email I have a picture that space 2 is myspace website and space 3 can be trueUML website. Our videos focus on the theme of space 2 and they are informal so these videos should be placed on myspace page. With limited time we can only focus on finishing up space 2.

About Mr. Carrabis mentioning youtube, I think he saw some of us using this website to present our videos so maybe he just wanted to make sure we understand what kind of marketing tool we’re dealing with and know how to distinguish the function each has in our overall project. Then again, he might see some potential strategy which might helps us with the project.

First thing, students, always assume Mr. Carrabis is just as much in the dark as you are.

This student’s ability to take information — confusing information — and synthesize a working concept that will further their project and get them closer to their goal is to be both honored and commended. Also note that this student is beginning to incorporate a “marketing” concept into their project.

These students are learning and learning rapidly. They are integrating outside and possibly confusing information in order to perfect their project and give it more legs than it might have had otherwise.

Any businesses out there, you can find these students in Dr. Moser’s UMass Lowell Strategic Management classes.

Notes from UML’s Strategic Management Class – Q&A, Part 7

I’m still posting about my Q&A’s with the UMass Lowell Strategic Management students. I’ll admit to my fascination watching these students learn.

This is from one student:

3)The YouTube site?
The youtube site offers the prospective students a chance to see what UML offers through firsthand accounts of the current students.

Very good.

4) Which is your sales channel, 5) which is your marketing channel?
believe that the marketing channel would be the myspace site because that is what we are using to entice students to click further onto the TrueUML site to seal the deal.

Again, very good. Think of the sales funnel (seems you are, anyway).

And from another student:

2) How does/will the TrueUML site contribute to meeting that goal?
The TrueUML site will be a great asset that will allow us to impliment our ideas and to convey to high school juniors and seniors the sense of ‘freedom’ and ‘belonging’ that college students have. We will get our message out through picture slideshows and amateur videos.

3)The YouTube site?
The YouTube site is a great place for us to upload our videos and get them on the web. Not only will YouTube help us display our videos on our website, but it will also allow people not familiar with to see our videos via YouTube’s website. It may be a smart idea to put a link to our TrueUML website in the description of our videos to give the website more exposure.

4) Which is your sales channel?
Our sales channel would be TrueUML, mainly because we are not limited as to what we can do with the website and we have complete control.

5.) Which is yourmarketing channel?

Our marketing channel would be Myspace and YouTube, since these two website are extremely popular with our target market. We can use these sites to divert people to the TrueUML website .

I’ve often thought the role of higher education is to provide both theory and real-world applications side by side. As I wrote above, these students are impressing me with how rapidly they’re taking what they learn in class and applying it to a real marketing problem.

Links for these posts:

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The Incomplete “Thoughts on Building a Business” Arc (with an update 8 years after the fact)

Note: yet another arc, this one unfinished after eight years. J must think this is a book…

Thoughts on Building a Business, Part 1

Yep, we’re going to start another arc here. I wanted to call it “Adventures in Small Business Management across the 8th Dimension” but didn’t want to limit myself. The idea for this arc comes from a few sources. One source is two people who called me (not together, this was two separate phone conversations) and asked for my advice starting companies. Another source is the increasing number of people who’ve asked me to read their business plans and help them out.

The former doesn’t really surprise me. The longer you’re in business the better the chances are you’ll stay in business. NextStage Evolution has been NextStage Evolution for five years now. A few years back we created a sister company, NextStage Global [[(it was our Canadian group. Susan’s reorged the company and NSG no longer exists as a separate entity)]], so that I could get back to doing what I’m good at — research.

This arc, therefore, will deal with the joys and sorrows of growing a business.

First, are you sure want to start a business, let alone run one? Does the expression “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” have any meaning to you? I didn’t want to start a business and knew for a fact I didn’t want to run one. I’ve written about an early presentation I did for an MIT Enterprise Forum. After my presentation a panel of business “experts” asked, what I wanted to do. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation on my part. “I want to go back to my farm in Nova Scotia. I have no right to think I can run a company. I need to find a CEO to do that. Having me run a company is like putting me on a racehorse and telling me to win a race. We may go around the track but I won’t like it, the horse won’t like it and I can guarantee we ain’t gonna win.”

Let me share something with you; You have to be a little crazy to start your own business. Don’t think so? Let’s go down the list of questions which you should ask yourself before starting down this road.

  • Are you putting together your business with your own resources?
  • Are you independently wealthy?
  • Do you plan on running your business out of your garage or basement for an indeterminate period of time?
  • Are you seeking outside financing?
  • Have you gone through a Family, Friends&Fools round? Politely it’s called “Family&Friends” but it’s really called “Family, Friends&Fools” because these folks are taking the biggest risk of everybody except you. You’re taking the biggest risk. You do know that, don’t you?
  • Have you talked to Angel Investors?
  • What about VC?
  • How about Golden Fathers?
  • What do you know about Equity and Merchant Banks?
  • You do appreciate that this business is your idea, you’re taking the biggest risk and by the time you’re done you might own 5-10% of your business.
  • You do know that you could end up owing the investors money because you didn’t plan properly and they’re concerned about the liquidity of their investment.
  • What about the SBA?
  • Have you talked with your local governmental economic development offices?

What? You didn’t ask yourself any of these questions and don’t know how to answer them?

Congratulations. Neither did I, and of my “graduating class” of entrepreneurs (the other companies represented at that long ago MIT Enterprise forum), NextStage is the only one still around and going strong.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 2

Have you considered how starting a business is going to affect your relationships? One of those local business experts I mentioned above told me that his first wife divorced him. Last time I talked with him he was on wife #2 because “she understands the sacrifices you have to make in business.” I wonder if she appreciates she could well be one of those sacrifices?

You need to know whether or not your life partner is going to support you emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. Think you have a good lock on those? Good, then what about financially? Are they willing to work and do without so you can get the equipment you need, pay contractors, rent office space? Are they willing to get a second or third mortgage, possibly lose the house you live in, get a smaller, used car, basically sacrifice with a capital Ouch! to make things happen? The reality check on this is whether or not you and your partner have a goal together or if your partner is just buying into your goal to humor you.

Remember my writing that NextStage had been around for five years? Those five years are significant. Do you know that from 1990 to 2003 96% of small businesses started in the US failed? The longer you remain in business the better your chances are of staying in business.

The US Small Business Office of Advocacy defines a small business as “…an independent business having fewer than 500 employees.” That’s a pretty big small business to me. Is it to you? How many employees do you have? Who’s in your core management team? Where did you find them? How did they find you? You did background checks, didn’t you? How well are they working together?

Do you know the language of business? Do you know what “I don’t know how to help you” means? You know about marketing and advertising and employee laws and regulations and taxes and incorporating and getting loans and support and sales and distribution and business models and marketing plans and pro formas?

I think these questions are much more important than those in the previous section. I asked Dan Sobotincic [[(CEO of NextStage Global at the time)]] how he learned how to run a business. He answered, “By making lots of mistakes.”

Sorry to all of the business school graduates (oh, let me get back to that one, too). You can learn lots of stuff from books. I’ve learned lots of stuff from books, anyway. But books plus experience? That’s the knockout combination. You can learn martial arts reading a book. Get punched in the face once or twice, though, and you really learn how to throw a block. Me thinks this post alone is going to end up being several thousand entries.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 3

Do you know the language of business? Do you know what “I don’t know how to help you” means? Do you know about marketing and advertising and employee laws and regulations and taxes and incorporating and getting loans and support and sales and distribution and business models and marketing plans and pro formas?

I think these questions are much more important than those listed in the first section of this post and are killers unless you have the kind of support I alluded to in the second part of this post.

Sorry to all of the business school graduates (let me get back to that one, too). You can learn lots of stuff from books. I’ve learned lots of stuff from books, anyway. But books plus experience? That’s the knockout combination. You can learn to play a musical instrument by reading a book. Sit down and play with someone who plays for a living, though? That’s when you really learn how to play. You can learn how to write from a book, too. Sit down and write with an experienced, excellent writer and again, your writing skills will go through the roof.

Learn about running a business from books is all well and good. This arc, I’ve come to realize, is about what I’ve learned by actually doing it, making mistakes, and how a personal philosophy can take you much further than anything else you can imagine.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 4

Do you have a trademark? Is your business based on a patentable device or technology? Do you know the financial costs of filing domestic and international patents? Who owns those patents? You or the business? Are there corporate or trade secrets involved in what you do? Where are these documented? Who knows these secrets besides you? Have you escrowed them somewhere and are you sure it’s safe?

What about the business’ income, real and projected? Forget about your income, you won’t be seeing that for a while unless you’re really, really lucky (chances are you won’t be). Do you have a product or are you developing a product? Do you have beta sites? How many beta sites do you need in order to validate your product? Or do you need third party validation of your product or technology? Is your product, technology or service scalable? Do you know what “scalable” means?

What’s your production costs? How quickly can you ramp up production to meet demand? What if there’s no demand and you already have manufacturing facilities in place? Are you using an onshore-offshore model? How do you know those onshore and offshore folks aren’t stealing your product?

And no, I’m not being paranoid. These are questions I was asked, had to ask myself or had to ask others in the early days of NextStage.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 5

When is a paying client a worthwhile client? What’s your customer or client acquisition cost? What’s each sale’s support cost? What’s each client’s maintenance cost? How much is each sale costing you? Can you support each sale?

Do you have employees or do you have consultants? Is there a difference in how each is treated and how each is compensated for their labors? How much equity do you want to share? Are your employees and consultants concerned with opportunity costs? Do you know what opportunity costs are? Do you have a trustworthy lawyer to draw up employment, consulting, incorporation, intellectual property, trademark and all the other legal agreements you’ll need?

Bing Bang Boom.

I’ve hit you with a lot in posts 1-5, I know. Now I’ll tell you the one question which, in my opinion, you really need to answer before you answer anything else; Who do you trust?

I can sit here all day typing things that come to mind based on what I’ve gone through and am going through (and again, I know I don’t know how to run a business), but what I’ve learned to answer before I answer anything else is “Do I trust this person? Do I trust this information?

In the next post in this arc we’re going to start answering some of these questions. Over my five years I’ve made some friends who’ll help answer some of these questions and any others you might care to ask.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 6

The first person you’ve got to trust is yourself. You need to learn to go with your gut right from the start and out of the gate. Trust yourself or you’re not going to succeed.

This is not just something that applies to me. Dan Sobotincic calls it his “spider sense”. One of my other mentors calls it “that funny tingling in my toes”. I’ve heard Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and others speak of the same thing. This isn’t something that only appears in business. Generals throughout history have described this “sixth” sense.

Is this sixth sense always accurate? History demonstrates that sometimes it is fallible, but even then the evidence is illusory at best. Neuro- and cognitive-science have this sixth sense falling into the category of intuition. The concept of intuition is studied as everything from an energy flow to a kind of non-conscious mathematical savantness. Business studies often view intuition as a form of knowledge management. My own research points me towards two possibilities and not in an “either-or” configuration but in a “both-and” metaphor.

  • The ability to non-consciously access accumulated knowledge via non-directed memory access.
  • The ability to both access and accept information from a higher knowledge source.

Before going further, yes, I know that last one is a little out there. Someday we’ll discuss the subtle differences between natural, preternatural and supernatural. I put the latter option above in the preternatural cast. I have a favorite anecdote about sliding from natural to supernatural; Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the great Scottish evangelist, tells a story of meeting Kruschev and engaging the First Secretary in a debate about Kruschev’s statement that he (Kruschev) was an atheist. Kruschev was so irritated by Dr. Orr’s logic that he finally banged his fist on the table and shouted “God knows I’m an atheist!”

Anyway, I think there’s a mixing of the two, sometimes all of one and none of the other and at all times a blend at work. Just so we’re all being honest here, my personal philosophy is that “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 7

Okay, everybody take a moment to catch their breath. I took the first five sections in this arc listing questions I never thought to ask myself before starting NextStage and one post responding to WorthABillion‘s comments [[(Sorry, all the comments to the old BizMediaScience blog are lost)]] in Responding to Reader’s Comments re Building a Business.

The last section had us reach the crest in this arc and was about trusting yourself.

No matter what you have done, learned or studied, appreciate that you’re going to make mistakes along the way. One thing I hope to share with you is (to paraphrase President Truman) the buck stops with you. Trust yourself to make mistakes and trust yourself to get beyond them. Every once in a while I’m asked to talk about my experiences starting a business. I tell people that they’re going to have problems and that in business or anything else it doesn’t matter how many time you fall down, only how many times you’re willing to get up. As long as you’re willing to get back up, you’re going to succeed.

We’re going to spend a little time at the crest. It’s a good place from which to get some perspective.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 8

Readers familiar with my history and bio know that I was once a truckdriver (still prefer manual to automatic transmissions). One of the things you learn truckdriving is “Whatever gear you go up a hill in is the gear you go down the hill in.” I think that metaphor applies here, so I’ll share my experiences getting NextStage going in the order I presented questions in previous posts starting tomorrow.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 9

Now we go down the hill we just climbed. At various points in my life I’ve kept journals, sometimes for no reason, sometimes because I knew I was going through something that would change me. Starting NextStage was something I suspected would change me. The anecdotes I’ll be sharing — most of them personal — will be from that journal.

Part of my commitment to journal writing was and is to be open and honest about my feelings, my thoughts, my insights and embarrassments. You don’t have to read a line twice to know if something is making me laugh, cry, ticking me off or just making me think. I’ve been debating how much of those feelings and thoughts to reveal in this blog.

A neutral, dry reportage of events chronicled in my NextStage journal will let you know things that happened and there is value in that. But it is a “if a tree falls in a wood” type of thing. Reporting events neutrally may provide facts but success and failure isn’t about facts, it’s about responses and reactions to facts. I remembered that fellow KMM author and editorial assistant Kimberlee Morrison wrote about my blog, “Candor – I enjoy the relaxed and candid tone of this blog.” and “Carrabis is open about his growth and it is quite endearing.”

It was while looking up the link for that quote that I read the incredible story about the Freedom Writers and Ms. Morrison’s involvement in it.

And this woman thinks I’m candid? I am humbled, dear woman.

I’ve decided I’ll state the factual lesson (as much as I’m able to neutralize it) and then my response and reaction, and what I learned from it.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 10

The fact: Getting financing from a bank involves lots of paperwork, so be prepared.

This wasn’t the first time I started a business. I had learned some things from that previous experience which I applied here. One thing I learned previously was not to go to banks for money unless you’re business is going to deal with known quantities. If you’re business deals with something truly innovative, shoot yourself now. You’ll eventually heal and the pain will go away.

This was the case with local banks, anyway. Back in the late 1980’s I had written a series of best selling trade technical books and had a growing consultancy going. Wanting to expand, I went to the bank where we had our accounts and asked for a business loan. The loan officer came from an IT background and had actually read several of my books. The bank’s internal systems were using methods I described in them.

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 11

I couldn’t get a loan even though we had an excellent credit history. The problem was that I had asked for the money I knew I needed, not the money the bank decided I needed. Confusing?

I knew how much I was making from consulting and writing. Some quick calculations showed how much I would need to expand operations, so that was what I asked for.
The bank, however, decided that I needed about US$1.5M (million), roughly twelve times what I calculated I needed. Why the difference? Because if the bank gave me a loan for US$120k it would have come out of their funds, US$1.5M would have come from SBA funding and the bank would only have to contribute 20% of the loan.

I’m only giving the high points, of course, but as I told the loan officer, “You do realize that at 20%, the bank still has to cover US$300k, don’t you? I mean, if I default on the loan the bank will be out more money than if you folks just give me the loan for US$120k, correct?”

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 12

This time I went through all the SBA paperwork, got their approval, got letters of approval, etc., from different NH state offices, letters of referral, letters of intent from clients, had our accountant put everything in order so that the bank would see our financial situation was improving over time, put together a business plan…

…and still got refused a loan. Why this time? Two reasons, both a little arcane (to me, anyway).

  • Again, I wasn’t asking for what the banks thought I’d need. Banks can’t tell you how much to ask for when you’re seeking a business loan. If they tell you how much to ask for and your business fails, they’re liable. Therefore nobody at any of the banks I went to was willing to tell me, “Ask for this much money and we’ll approve the loan.” The bigger problem was that the banks couldn’t figure out how much I would need. The reason the banks couldn’t figure out how much I would need was, …
  • …as several members of NH’s SBDC and PTAC offices told me, I wasn’t getting a loan for a “pink poodle parlor”. [[Something so known and commodified that they knew the success would be completely due to the applicant and not the business concept at all.]]

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 13

NextStage’s problem, therefore, was that what we do isn’t intuitively obvious to the casual observer (Evolution Technology is a paradigm shift for most people. As one of my professors said to me when I showed him my thesis, “This is so obvious only you could have figured it out.”).

It turns out that it’s relatively easy to get government funding for what’s obvious. “Pink poodle parlors” was the term some folks at SBDC and PTAC offices used to designate beauty salons, dog groomers, stitcheries, manufacturing, … anything which could be explained by saying “We do what those folks in that building do, we just do it in pink.” These are obvious things to get funded because everybody knows what they are and what to expect from them. I still remember several members of these offices telling me that they were really excited about working with NextStage precisely because we weren’t a pink poodle parlor. “Do you know how many pink poodle parlors we have to go through in a month? And you bring us something like this and wonder why we all want to help you?”

Thoughts on Building a Business, part 14

Next fact: Getting financing from the government involves lots of paperwork and knowing the right people, so if you have no connections, get some.

NextStage wasn’t in the pink poodle parlor business but there were still people willing to help NextStage succeed. Interestingly enough, none of the people I worked with at SBDC, PTAC are still involved with those organizations and only a few people remain at the banks from which I sought loans.

One of the people who helped NextStage succeed was Dave Nelson, then of NH SBDC. He and two other gentlemen constituted my first experience with NH SBDC is documented in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, Chapter 4, Anecdotes of Learning and excerpted in the following:

ET had only been in existence as an interface for about a month. It had learned all it could from me and had some experience with others in the tribe (students, friends, family and peers). Could ET take what it had learned and synthesize new information, essentially

  1. )learn and interpret the signs of someone it had never met (ie, acquire them),
  2. ) make an accurate analysis of that person’s behaviors in order to understand how they think (ie, read their mind), and
  3. ) predict that person’s needs and future plans based on what it had discovered in 1 and 2 above (ie, synthesize outcomes)

I went to see Dave Nelson, then Director of New Hampshire’s Small Business Development Center office at Rivier College in Nashua, NH. There were two other gentlemen in the office with him, and I started to explain what ET was and what it could do. It was 10:30 in the morning.
Their eyes glazed over very rapidly.
Dave Nelson started working on his computer. I figured he was bored and checking his emails or some such. Little did I know he was navigating the NextStage Evolution website. The site is very different now from what it was then. Back then it would display little charts about you based on what it was learning about you while you navigated.
Dave stopped and, as I continued to explain how ET worked, he said, “I’m on your site.”
He said it very dryly, very deadpan. I figured someone had hacked into our site and replaced it with porn or something.
“Oh? What do you think?”
“Your site says I’m highly visual and that I’m thinking about something in the near future.”
“Oh? That’s nice.”
Dave paused, then looked at me. “My wife always complains about how visual I am and I was just wondering what I’d have for lunch.”
Like I said, it was about 10:30 in the morning. Near future. Highly visual.
Acquire, read, synthesize.
Dave has been one of NextStage’s strongest advocates ever since.

Don’t, and let me emphasize don’t, attempt to get bank or government funding for anything truly innovative because no one will understand it but you and perhaps a handful of others, and if either you or that handful of others has money, why are you going this route in the first place?

Next up, government funding.

Thoughts on Building A Business – Government Funding

My adventures began with federal government. I started at the federal level because, heck, why start small?

I contacted our NH’s two US senators at the time (2001-2002). I met with their staff and in person (at least with the senior senator for NH [[and eventually both]]). I’ll cut to the chase. Nothing ever came from it except a promise to look into things. They promised in writing and to my face.

“… As soon as I have a response from the Department, I will be back in touch with you. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any additional questions.”

I guess the Department (of Defense) never got back to him because he never got back in touch with me. Neither of them did.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. I did receive an invitation to donate to the RNC. I also discovered I’d been selected Honorary Chairperson for the State of NH RNC. We still have the plaque somewhere and the letter’s on file.

And if I had US$2,000, I could attend a meeting in DC at which I’d have the chance to get my picture taken with the President. No guarantee of that, you understand, just the chance.

Hold me back, hold me back now.

Thoughts on Building A Business – Government Grants, SBIRs, STTRs and Other Things You Won’t Qualify For, Part 1

I continue with my quest for intelligent life in the universe. This time, SBIRs and other incentive programs.

Before going further, yes, I know there are companies who qualify and receive funding from such things, and I’m genuinely happy for them. They know how to do things that I didn’t at the time and probably still don’t.

But then again, this arc is primarily about my ignorance.

There is a federal program where by companies can get in touch with other companies to go after government contracts. This is partnering and most business people would recognize it as such. NextStage went after several of these, we put our name on federal lists for this and that, and never got a partnering nibble because “Government backed businesses won’t do business with you because you’re not big enough to sue.”


Evidently, about the only thing you can be sure of when dealing with the government or its businesses is that at some point, at some time, you’ll be sued and it will be for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you did what you agreed to do but because getting sued is part of the game. Unless you’re big enough to go after, you’re not considered big enough to get in the game, kind of an “You have to be this tall to get on this ride” thing that nobody openly talks about and you only learn when you’re sitting in a bar and someone feels paternalistic towards you.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Eois and Calum told me that I’d never completed this arc and, recognizing the point in time I was writing it, I understand; My spider-sense was tingling. Both NextStage and I were about to go through fundamental changes that brought all my and our resources to bear.

So have I learned anything? I hope so. If not, shoot me now.

What have I learned and what am I learning? In summary and in no particular order.

  • Make sure you vet and hire your own staff. One of our CEOs hired someone they thought would be great for us. That person damn near brought the company down. Not only were they completely unsuited to the task they were hired for, they had no concept of the chain of command.
  • Along those lines and as much as you’re able, hire people as consultants, not employees. Especially when you’re starting out. The down side is that they’ll want to be paid for their work and won’t necessarily believe in your company or product or offering the way you do, so offering them part of the company won’t be an incentive. The up side is that you can let them go and never look back. (From Susan: And you don’t have to pay employee taxes on consultants.)
  • Biggee – Don’t start the company until you have the right people in place. Corollary – You’ll rarely have the right people in place.
  • Don’t hire brilliant people. Definitely hire people who are incredibly good at what they do, but never hire people who are brilliant and definitely never hire brilliant people who are insecure in their brilliance.
  • Only hire people who know they are there to do a job. People who want to change the world will work cheap but their fire will consume them and probably everything you’re working for…at the worst possible moment.
  • Biggee – and this is from a quote one of our original programmers, Kevin “KBar” McBride, gave me, “Go with your gut; it’s right between your heart and your balls.” In other words, follow your instincts. Even when their incorrect, it’ll be you that both pays the price and learns from the experience, and in those there is value beyond heaven’s gates.
  • Biggee – Make sure you’re speaking the same language as anyone who uses the word “help” as in “How can I help you?”, “How can we help each other?”, etc. Understand that in business, the word “help” means “make a profit” as in “How can I profit from you?” I know that every group has its own jargon and business is excellent at using metaphor to hide meaning and intent. I remember being with an investor in the crowded restaurant of his club having lunch. At one point he stood up (there was no reason to do so), faced me, said loudly “I don’t know how to help you, Joe” while moving his arms back and forth (ask me to demonstrate some time, it’s a hoot), then sat back down. I was seriously confused. I said, “Give me $50k to buy the computer systems I need. I’ve been telling you that for the past half hour.” He shook his head and looked away, disgusted. I didn’t realize his performance was for his peers, not me, to let them know that he was willing to help this village idiot but he’d managed to get an idiot who didn’t know that something was expected in return. This is where knowing each other’s language comes in. If he’d simply said, “What do I get?” I would have told him and things would have moved forward, but such a crass statement wouldn’t have been worthy, I guess. Another example was the investment group who told me to get clients. Once I got clients, investors would line up. No problem. I went to my deli owner, a friend, and a woman I knew with a small consultancy and asked them to sign up. They didn’t have to pay, I just wanted to be able to say “I have clients”. They did, I went back to the investment group and they shook their heads. “We mean companies like Ford, Amazon, Google, clients like that.” Again, I was confused. “You know anybody at those companies to make introductions for me?” Of course they didn’t, but there you go.
  • Learn to recognize idiots. They can be well meaning idiots, malicious idiots, extremely intelligent idiots and plain and simple idiots. Avoid them. If you hired them, get rid of them. If you’re working for them, leave.
  • Biggee and following the above, learn to recognize, as quickly and truthfully as possible, when you’re an idiot. Stop what you’re doing immediately. Take time to reassess. Get back your intelligence, replan, regroup, redo, then start getting back to work.
  • One of the first people I ever went to for help immediately answered me back with “What do I get?” It was crass and vulgar and immediately understandable. I didn’t like it and I thanked him for it. Many times. With ROI.
  • Just because somebody’s run a business doesn’t mean they know how to run your business. We went through a few CEOs who were successful in one vertical and couldn’t shift their acumen to other verticals. The end result was that they spent lots of money — sometimes ours — and nothing got done.
  • Get business, patent, etc., attorneys who know the law and know they don’t know your business, your invention, your technology, etc. Attorneys who thought they understood engineering better than me have cost me several patents, attorneys who thought they knew people better than me have cost me several dollars. Make sure you get attorneys who will give you the best legal advice available (doesn’t mean they have to be the most expensive), tell you when they think you’re making a mistake and then follow your instructions exactly.
  • Biggee – it’s your company. You have a say. In fact, you have the only say. When things aren’t going your way, say so. Loudly. Until people stop what they’re doing to listen. And respond. Or either you or they leave. Someone told me early on that no investor is going to shoot the golden goose (that would be me in the case of NextStage). I knew that advice was crap when I heard it and experience has held it true.
  • There’s a wonderfully idiotic saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”. Don’t believe it. Unless you have someone willing to sacrifice to keep you afloat until the money shows up. The money invariably drives a much slower vehicle than you do.
  • Take a lesson from evolution; stay small to survive. NextStage has been around since 2001. Most of the companies that started at the same time are gone. The minute your company gains recognition beyond a chosen few, lawsuits show up for no reason. Investors don’t like what you did. Clients don’t like what you did. People you don’t know don’t like what you did. The sky is cloudy and it’s your fault. But if you stay so small that you survive with minimal pockets, nobody bothers you. Use this time to perfect everything you can and put as many protections in place as possible. Then and only then, make your big splash.
  • Biggee – Make everybody accountable and hold them accountable. This is something else we learned from failed CEOs. More than once we said, “We don’t want your money, we want your rolodex and your experience” and more than once all they knew how to do was give us money. But without business experience, money is actually pretty useless.
  • Major Biggee – Don’t go after money until you’ve either had experience running a real business (not a pink poodle parlor and no offense to those who run them), running a multi-person dept in a larger company (complete with financial oversight for the dept), or have someone who’s had those experiences. Until you’ve worked with finances — not money but finances — you’re not ready for money. One investor asked me for a spreadsheet of projected income v expenses. Easy, took less than one screen of an XLS sheet. He said, “No, I mean something like this” and showed me something that covered seven (no kidding) XLS sheets in full. In Full!.
  • Learn to use your ego, don’t let yourself, your business, your family, your investors, your employees, etc., get used by your ego. There are times to stand firm because you do know what’s best and there are times to admit you don’t. Pay attention to which times are which and you’ll be better off.
  • Major Biggee – You’re going to make mistakes. Get use to it and get over it. You can have the best advice, best intelligence, best counselling, best whatever, and you’ll still make mistakes. The stupidest thing you can do is ignore them and hope everyone else does, too. Not good. You won’t learn otherwise. (See our Principles for more on this)
  • Biggee – Make sure everyone who’s working for you, with you and around you knows, understands, appreciates and will use the chain of command. If you’re running the company, everybody has to report to you either directly or through that chain. If you own the company, ditto in spades.
  • Hire with a purpose, not to help out someone in need. If someone can’t benefit the business in an obvious way, take them to dinner, buy them a meal, clothing, whatever, just don’t hire them. (From Susan:) Remember, you’re not a charity. You can help the world when you’re rich and famous or rich and have time. Until then, help yourself first, your (immediate) family second, your business third, …
  • Spend money on equipment, people, space, travel, development, research, … only when there’s a recognized, road-blocking, game-stopping, must have, more-than-one use need for it, them, … You can spend discretionary dollars when you’re out of start-up mode because that’s when you’ll have discretionary dollars to spend. But not when you’re just out of the gate.
  • Biggee – Get it in writing. Don’t accept promises, handshakes, etc. Acknowledge them, definitely, and get it in writing. As Susan often says, “Promises make a thin soup.”
  • Major Biggee – Make sure your family is going to emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically and definitely financially support you. Then return that support. I’ve known a few entrepreneurs whose families sacrificed everything for them and then the entrepreneurs turned around and sacrificed their families on the altars of stupidity and greed. Don’t do that. The most terrifying enemies are those closest to your heart.

Okay, Susan says I’ve covered it all. I think there’s stuff I’ve missed. Stay tuned…maybe it’ll be in a future blog post. Or a book. Yeah, that’s the ticket…because there are already so many in the queue…

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