New companies I advise often bring up the prospects of bidding for federal or state contracts. They see Government Contract dollars as a way of bootstrapping themselves to achieve their vision without having to find investors to support their early developments, key demonstrations or growth.  While I understand the interest in such a path, I advise against it for most of my clients. 

Prior to Mind the Gap, LLC, I worked for 20+ years in companies that focused a majority of their efforts on bidding for and winning Government research and development (R&D) dollars. We were pretty good at it, winning a sizable percent of the jobs we bid. However, the problem with the Government Contracting path is that it generally ‘over damps’ critical market response and feedback for your technology or product. I like to say that the highs are lower, the lows are higher, and the time required to achieve success or failure is drawn out significantly. 

Of course, there are times when Government Contracting is the very best way, even the only way, to go for your business or product. So, how do you know when it’s right for your technology or product?

The following are 7 Questions I ask to determine whether or not Government Contracting is a wise path to pursue.  

The Peyton Manning Era was officially ushered in today at Bronco headquarters. For all intents and purposes, this has ended the Tim Tebow Era in Denver. Boy, it sure was fun while it lasted.

I started thinking about what Tim Tebow should do next. Of course, he has little leverage at this point and will go wherever he is traded. He may get waived, and in that case he has more options.

Tim Tebow is an unusual football talent with incredible leadership skills but, by nearly all accounts, is an under-performer in traditional quarterbacking skills. If you're a little warped like me, this should make you wonder:

How would Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution, advise Tim Tebow?

Tim Tebow will soon found out his fate now that his days in Denver are
Expect another run on Tebow jerseys.
Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor
Clayton Christensen: czar of disruptive innovation
Christensen: "Hi, Tim. Sorry to hear about the developments in Denver. Of course, I could have easily predicted it if you had only asked."

Tebow: "Professor Christensen, thank you for your concern, sir. It is a pleasure and honor to talk with you. What do you recommend I do next?"

Christensen: "Well, Tim. I have several ideas drawn from my most famous books. Here are my four recommendations:"

  1. First, face it, you are bound to lose if you go head to head with the status quo. It will take years, if ever, for you to acquire the skills of a traditional quarterback. The NFL market is built on traditional skills.

    But, if you really get down to it, there's not a whole lot of innovation in the NFL. Skill difference within pretty narrow restrictions of offense and defense is what sets one team apart from the other.

    You need to embrace your unorthodox you. You should focus on satisfying the needs of a franchise or new segment of customers whose needs you know you can satisfy.

  2. Downselect to teams that have been traditionally under 0.500. Teams that have struggled pretty consistently over recent years are far easier to please. Their expectations are lower.

    The Broncos are obviously not that team. They have a winning Super-Bowl tradition. After entertaining your disruptive innovation for a half season, they decided to head down the traditional path. They added a big increment in capability with Peyton Manning in the hopes of leapfrogging their competition.

    Tim, think Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills.  And of course, the Jacksonville Jaguars.  No Super Bowls, rare playoff appearances, low expectations.

  3. Only entertain teams that will consider truly unusual offensive schemes. You need to be in an offense that will really change the structure of the game. Full-up wishbone offense? Maybe, but not innovative enough. How about extreme formations with only two guards and a center? What about a super shotgun formation where you're back 10-15 yards to buy more time and introduce more on-the-fly scrambling?  The team will struggle at first, but will then master the new structure and begin winning.

  4. Consider Rugby.  Limited passing skills are not a detriment here. You just need to be able to run with or lateral the ball. You do this in your sleep. I cannot imagine a Rugby team owner that would not love to get you and make money from the untapped US audience.

    The rub here is that the US team is currently ranked 17th in the world. Not quite good enough. You will need to consider one of the power countries like England, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. I recommend England to avoid the confusion the general US population has about the Southern Hemisphere.

    Dual citizenship will be required and you may need some help to make it happen. The next Rugby World Cup is in 2015, so you'll have plenty of time to hone skills. Rugby is also going to be an Olympic Sport in 2016. I think an Olympic Medal would make you even more marketable if and when you then return to the NFL.

Tebow: "Wow. That's a lot to think about."

Christensen: "Yes it is. But I've seen how these things work in the steel and disk drive industries."

Tebow: "Huh?"

Christensen: "Never mind.  Good luck."

Tebow: "Thank you.  And God Bless You."

March 21, 2012 Update: Tebow was traded to the NY Jets today. Based on the above, this will not go well.

The past few days, I've been thinking about the stark contrast in messages between a recent talk by Christian Vanek, co-founder of Boulder's SurveyGizmo, and Greg Smith's now infamous New York Times Op-Ed piece about his departure from Goldman Sachs. The difference in messages should serve as a lesson in the importance of customer service. The lesson is far from new, but is one that applies just as much today in a world swimming in internet startups as it did when Goldman Sachs was founded in 1869.  

I attended the Boulder Startup Meetup last week where Christian Vanek was the keynote speaker. About six years ago, Christian founded SurveyGizmo with Scott McDaniel. By most measures, SurveyGizmo is a success, now employing ~50 employees and turning a decent profit. Christian gave an entertaining presentation and walked through a series of myths and truths about starting a business. A major point Christian emphasized was the essential and critical role customer service has played in their success. To build their business, SurveyGizmo has relied almost exclusively on word-of-mouth. Customer service is one of their key discriminators. They know it and, most importantly, embrace and nurture it.

"Treat your customers like royalty and your employees like volunteers."
- Christian Vanek, co-founder SurveyGizmo

Now, consider Goldman Sachs. I'm skeptical enough to believe that reality may not be as harsh as Greg Smith's portrayal would have us think. Even when I've worked in organizations numbering in the few tens, I've seen some pretty different views of the same events or decisions. Goldman Sachs posted their corporate response to Smith's piece the same day and included the proud claim that "89 percent of [employees] said that the firm provides exceptional service to [our clients]." 

What's interesting to me about Goldman Sachs' response is that it does not take on any specific assertions and is limited to an internal view rather than also including an external client view. Granted, most of Smith's grenades speak to deterioration of the internal culture. But each one of these, if true, ultimately damages the client-first mindset upon which Goldman-Sachs built its business. If the truth lies anywhere between what their website response contends and what Smith portrays, then I would say there's a pretty big issue needing serious attention.

Justin Fox's HBR blog essay digs deeper into what might be going on and has the benefit of being a bit more detached in its analysis. The article is worth a read. Fox puts forth several causes for a cultural change at Goldman Sachs including: the transition from partnership to publicly traded corporation in 1999; the excess profits to be made in the over-the-counter derivative markets; and the unintended and toxic consequences of creating a super-expert culture. 

Of course, it is orders of magnitude easier to shape and maintain culture when you are a 50 employee privately-held company than it is when you are a 30,000 employee publicly-traded corporation.

So, here are a couple unsolicited ideas for Goldman Sachs. First, assign a team to work with SurveyGizmo to create a targeted survey that will unlock new insights into how your employees and clients really view the organization. Then, and better yet, send some executives to SurveyGizmo's Boulder offices for a week and simply observe. It will be a refreshing, customer-oriented experience and may help you get back to your roots. 

My first article for LiDAR News came out this morning.  I am now an official contributing author.  Gene Roe (editor) noticed one of my February blog entries and thought I had a unique perspective to add to the mix.  This first article is the Spotlight article for the mid-March edition. 

The article is about LiDAR market disruption and two recent innovative product releases that have made big splashes this past year or so.  One is the Focus 3D sensor from FARO and the other is the very cool and very cheap non-traditional LiDAR that lives inside Microsoft's Kinect gaming system.

Read the full article here

I attended a very worthwhile Boulder Startup Meetup this past week. It was hosted by Brian Tsuchiya of Vim Inc., StartUP Guru, and it seems a few other concurrent adventures.  The focus of the meeting was the emerging, and soon to be tipping, Crowdfunding phenomenon that will hopefully clear critical legislative hurdles later this year.  Well, one of Brian's other adventures is EZOG.  EZOG stands for Entrepreneurial Zone of Genius. It is basically a targeted personality assessment that attempts to define your entrepreneurial style. The assessment (which is free) comprises a series of 25 questions and can be completed in about 15 minutes.  The four entrepreneurial styles are Visionary, Architect, Builder, and Cultivator. 

Over the years, I've taken my share of personality and thinking style profiles, including Myers-Briggs, Emergenetics, and Graves' Spiral Dynamics.  They each bring something a little different to the table and are useful for both improving your self awareness and figuring out the best way to build an effective, balanced team.  I think EZOG is a great addition to the mix and appears to be a useful tool to help as you engineer the gene pool of your next new-start project or venture. 

And by the way, I'm an Architect.  Check it out -- get your EZOG on!

I've long been interested in finding quantifiable data that determines whether a technology startup will succeed or not. There's certainly a wealth of subjective information and opinion out there, but remarkably little when it comes to hard core data. Yes, much of that opinion is well founded, based on personal experience and duly-earned battle scars. But I'm interested in real data beyond simple demographics and backward-looking financials. Can you actually predict success? Well, about a year ago, the Startup Genome Project was launched to attempt to turn the tide here. 

The Startup Genome Project has as its stated mission "to increase the success rate of startups and accelerate the pace of innovation globally." The Startup Genome Project is a collaboration of a group of entrepreneurs and academics from UC Berkeley and Stanford University. They have developed a tool called the Startup Genome Compass. It is a benchmarking tool with a web-based interface that allows you to complete a fairly detailed survey about numerous aspects of your business and product. This information then feeds into their database, they crunch the numbers using some unique methodologies, and provide a set of benchmark metrics. These metrics are compared with other entries in their database and you can see where you stand against other startups. 

In May of 2011, the Startup Genome Project released its first report summarizing their findings from more than 3200 internet-based startups. In August of 2011, they followed that report up with one about Premature Scaling, which is a primary failure mechanism for internet startups. When you go to their website, you can request a copy of these free reports. They then email you a link to the requested report. Very cool and full of good insights.

The folks at the Startup Genome Project recognize that entrepreneurship is at least as much art as science, especially in the internet startup game. However, because of the huge number of internet startups, most with exceptionally fast
life/death cycles, it provides a great opportunity to detect patterns that can be verified.  The business equivalent of a fruit fly. 

I tried entering sample information to test drive their Startup Compass tool. As noted, the questions are pretty detailed and certainly biased strongly toward internet/software-only companies. However, the questions asked in the tool and the trends gleaned from the reports provide some great insights. If you don't have time to read the reports themselves, their blog has some concise summaries and also provides indications of what the folks at the Startup Genome Project are doing next. 

As we near their first anniversary, thanks to the team at the Startup Genome Project for some compelling and valuable work!