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April 2013 - Volano Solutions

Snacks, Drinks on Us at Big Omaha 2013

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Have you heard? Big Omaha will celebrate its fifth consecutive conference next week in the heart of downtown Omaha. Dubbed as one of the Midwest’s most exciting and ambitious conferences for entrepreneurs of all ages, Big Omaha and its 600-plus attendees will fill KANEKO and surrounding Old Market establishments May 8-10.

Volano Solutions has been a constant supporter of Big Omaha and its mission throughout the past few years. And 2013 is no exception. We are pleased to return to Big Omaha 2013 as the official snack and beverage sponsor.

What does this mean? Fellow Big Omaha attendees will enjoy sweet and savory foods and beverages while fueling up on motivation, inspiration, and innovation for two solid days. Ask anyone who has attended Big Omaha: the mid-morning and early-afternoon snacks are just the sustenance needed to keep listening, keep learning, and continually network.

(More good news: We’ll announce the complete Big Omaha snack and beverage menu next week here on our blog. Stay tuned!)

The shared missions of Big Omaha and its organizer, Silicon Prairie News, have forever been focused on highlighting our region’s success stories, along with providing the tools for entrepreneurs and start-ups — just like Volano Solutions — to make great strides in their respective industries.

Our team is counting down to next Wednesday, when the fifth annual Big Omaha opens its doors to attendees from around the country. We are eager to hear the varied speakers, the backgrounds of whom are outlined on the Big Omaha website.

Look for the Volano Solutions team at Big Omaha next week. (We like sitting up front.) Say hi via @volanosolutions on Twitter (using the soon-to-be-trending #bigomaha). We’re certain Big Omaha 2013 will be the best yet, and we can’t wait to see you there.

Want to experience Big Omaha? You’re in luck. Entrepreneur and corporate tickets remain available: http://bigomaha2013.eventbrite.com/

Mad Men Business Lessons: Expect the Best from Your People

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Don’t Fall Asleep on Mad Men

Last night’s episode of Mad Men, ominously titled “The Flood,” sucker punched viewers with the assassination of Martin Luther King. It was light on business and heavy on the characters navigating through their personal dilemmas. Don Draper showed affection to his son Bobby while admitting the lack of a real father figure in his life likely explained his inability to do the same for his children. Pete Campbell, struggling with his recent dislocation from his family shows empathy for the tragic assassination. Peggy hopefully contemplates the idea of kids with Abe and Joan made an effort to bridge the gulf with her secretary Dawn.

Expect the Best

This week we’re exploring another business lesson to be learned from Mad Men; expect the best from your people. This one might be more of a stretch and may not be as episode specific but is important none the less. Employers who set high standards get high quality outcomes from their people. This translates into a better customer service experience for your clients. If you set a low bar, expect mediocre outcomes. Author and business consultant John DiJulius understands this well and is worth looking into (http://thedijuliusgroup.com/johndijulius). He believes high standards begin with hiring the right people. Don Draper is famous at asking a lot from his creative people and will quickly send them back to the drawing board if he feels their proposals for clients are incoherent or ineffective. Presumably it is this drive for quality work that has helped their spin-off advertising firm grow and weather the loss of their large tobacco client from two seasons ago.

Realistic Goals

In my experience, employees will rise to the occasion of high standards if you expect them to achieve. If you clearly communicate objectives, offer support and direction needed to achieve these goals and set realistic and measurable objectives, you’re in a strong position to capitalize. Celebrating this achievement is equally important and reinforces the importance of working toward hitting the goals. This week the Volano crew will head out to the movies Friday afternoon. Our development team has worked hard with our clients and have earned a half day of hooky. It may not be martinis at lunch Mad men style but we’ll take it.

Hey Four Eyes!

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By Antonio Zugaldia (http://www.flickr.com/photos/azugaldia/7457645618) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Google Glasses: Eyes Wide Shut

Remember when we thought smart phones were the pinnacle of man’s technological prowess? Google may be onto something that makes the iPhone look like your dad’s flip phone. I’ve been reading up on Google Glasses, hotly anticipated on the market by the end of this year (http://community.digitalmediaacademy.org/tag/when-will-google-glasses-come-out). The features are enticing but the implications to society in general may be ominous, reminding us once again that our technology is light years ahead of the discussion on these advancements’ ethical implications.

Features and Benefits

Google Glasses boast a litany of cool features. “Normal” usage allows for a full day of battery life, assuming you’re not out pretending to be Federico Fellini, filming the artful experience of waiting for your latte at Starbucks. Wi-fi enabled, you can experience the internet wearing the glasses as if it were 8 feet in front of you on a 25 inch screen. The glasses will come with audio as well using a (and I am not making this up) bone conduction transducer system that transmits sound waves to your skull. Look out George Jetson! Connected to the Google cloud, you’ll be able to access all of your stuff. Need directions? The glasses automatically upload your location data. They’re also blue tooth enabled and come with a 5 mega-pixel camera so you can take pictures like James Bond and nobody will know it. Wait…what?

The Downside

Many people, like James Kendrick of Mobile News have legitimate privacy concerns about Google Glasses.
http://www.zdnet.com/google-glass-privacy-concerns-come-to-the-head-7000014431/. Smart phones all have cameras but at the very least, you know when somebody is taking your photo. How comfortable are you knowing that anybody wearing those glasses could be snapping pictures of you or your kids? I also think that there is a great paradox with some tech advances. In one respect, instant access to information and the new avenues to communicate have been a boon to business, communication and social networking. However, is it possible to reach a point where so many options exist for preoccupation that we actually tune people around us out? Can we really focus on and enjoy a time and place when we have access to engage all of our senses at any time? I would have to assume that anybody wearing the glasses is predisposed and I would hesitate to engage them. Admittedly, that might be an upside for them.

A New Eco-System

Google has venture cap guys very excited. Investor John Doerr with Kleiner Perkins thinks that Google is creating a medium that will likely spur innovation with developers. “New platforms are rare, but can be transformational, when they’re based on great products with robust APIs, powerful distribution and outstanding entrepreneurs.” Just as the iPhone helped create and drive a culture, Google Glasses may be the springboard for a host of applications that eventually negate the need to get out of bed in the morning. I have to wonder if Google contact lenses are next.

Volano in the News Again

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What We Do

Volano Solutions was featured this month in the Midlands Business Journal. Check out the article when you have some time. Custom software can be an abstract topic and the MBJ did a good job of crystalizing what we do here.

Collaboration

Like any business, communication is the central component for success. Volano believes that building custom software should be a collaborative process and backs that up operationally. Our software developers lead regular iteration meetings with our clients to ensure that the code we are writing produces the intended result that our clients need to see in their daily business. We are able to leverage our experience building like systems and our long history with workflow management to provide a high level of business consultation as well. We’re good at the Big Picture.

Workflow Management

The article mentions Volano’s goal of becoming more diversified in our business model. Product sales will be instrumental in achieving this goal and Steelwool will be the catalyst. Steelwool was designed to help small businesses that may not quite have the appetite for custom software but need a system to help manage and track the steps in their work process. We are looking for specific industries that have repeatable processes, specialized teams or people and need increased visibility into work status. By reinforcing the steps in your business process, Steelwool provides clarity to users. Everyone knows what they need to do and where things are at in your process. The ability to upload and store documents and photos allows users to work anywhere and gives owners peace of mind.

Open Door Policy

The key to Volano’s continued growth goes beyond technical aptitude. Being based out of the Midwest, in a city that boasts five Fortune 500 companies and rewards innovation, we’ve staked our business on exceptional service and support. We’ve defined success in how useful the systems are that we build for our clients and we see that in the amount of ad hoc work we continue to get from them as they grow. That starts with our company culture which has been well documented in these blogs. Come play darts with us Friday afternoon and learn more about what we do.

Download Midlands Business Journal Article

Mad Men Lessons: Support Your Team

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Let’s catch up on last night’s Mad Men episode, the third from this most recent season. Peggy Olson capitalized on her ill-begotten Heinze Ketchup scoop and stole the business out from under Draper and Co. Megan Draper’s acting career heated up as Don cooled to the recent love scenes written for her character in her daytime television drama. Joan and Harry continued to struggle for respect in the office, the former as a woman and the latter as an underappreciated idea geek. Finally we got to see a little more work from the pitch men when the Heinze ad campaign was proposed, contrasting Don’s subtle implication versus Peggy’s bold, in your face feature.

Wait, What Are You Guy's Doing Here?

This episode has me thinking of the Mad Men business lesson of the week; support your team. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce may argue internally over vision and tactics but with few exceptions, they rally when it comes to presenting a unified front on pitching clients. Pete Campbell brings in the big prospects and Don closes them. As the viewer can see from the last two seasons, the agency is growing. Last night media buyer Harry Crane had to demand support but got it from senior partner Bert Cooper.

Unfortunately, this unified support does not often translate on the home front. Pete Campbell’s careless infidelity will probably cost him his first marriage and Don’s extramarital intra apartment dalliance with the neighbor’s wife, coupled with his spectacularly hypocritical lack of support for Megan’s career casts a dark shadow over their relationship.

Supporting your team should be conventional wisdom. Business by nature is competitive and often confrontational. We’ve written about the importance of knowing yourself and knowing your business. If that knowledge translates into a coherent vision, the next obvious ingredient is empowering your people and supporting them. In Mad Men we watch Don Draper show his age. He is from another time and as the sixties start to rage, fee love is on display and a new openness threatens to overturn the old order. My prediction is that by the end of the final season, Don will lose the support of his team if he can’t conform his ideas to the new generation. Thoughts?

Who Am I, Why Am I Here?

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It’s 3:00 on Friday afternoon, and I am wrapping up my third week here at Volano Solutions. It’s been just long enough that I am starting to feel at home, but not so long that I’ve forgotten why motives or reasoning for joining this lot. The short answer is because I have failed to find anyone to pay me for this superfecta of passions – running, knitting, beer tasting, and gardening. The long answer is a bit more complex.

I first became acquainted with Rod and Don a few years ago, and have long respected and admired their business “credo”. You might sum it up as “work hard, play hard”, but there’s really a lot more to it. Kelly does a great job defining Volano’s dogma here:

Volano’s core values are simple. Learn. Complete your work. Take Pride in your work. Adapt. Have fun.

In my very short tenure at Volano I have truly enjoyed becoming a part of a company that lives what they profess to be, and working with such a great group of developers…and Kelly. 🙂

Side note – if you are interested in hiring me to run while knitting, drinking beer, and gardening,  please do let me know. I am sure Rod and Don would love to hear my pitch on how to break into this untapped market. Happy Friday!

At Long Last!

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Though I only officially came on board with Volano Solutions this past Monday, I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last three weeks here in the Volano compound. I couldn’t be happier to be part of such a great team; everyone here is tack sharp, in wit and knowledge, and has made me feel welcome right from the beginning. I’ve finally found the place for which I’ve been searching so many years!

However, I must apologize for the unusually poor weather over the past 3 weeks. You see, the last time I came from Florida to Omaha was in 2009, when my presence triggered the 14th-snowiest season on record. Needless to say, I was not at all surprised when my first night of 2013 here in the Big O yielded (what seemed to me) about an inch of snow less than three weeks ago.

For I am the harbinger of long, cold, and bitter winters.
(I’m also a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma!)

So while I bring with me simply the worst winters you’ll ever have to endure, I hope you keep in mind that I really like being here. After all, what’s a little frostbite when compared to someone else’s happiness?

Mad Men Lessons: Know Your Business

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Does Peggy Know Her Business?

Last night’s episode of Mad Men, this season’s second installment, saw Don Draper continuing to lower the moral bar at home and rattle the cages of his associates at work with his client management decision-making. The episode tied nicely into the weekly business lesson from which Volano is drawing parallels; know your business. However, the character I find most intriguing right now is Peggy.

For those of you that are new to Mad Men, Peggy began the series as a secretary for Sterling Cooper and was eventually promoted to work for Don Draper despite the glass ceiling women faced in the workplace during the Sixties. Peggy was sharp and had a good sense for writing copy and directing creative work that sold product. Last season she left the firm to work for a competitor and a director-level title. In last night’s episode Peggy casually relays a conversation to her boss Stan Chaough that she had with a former peer about a large account (Heinz Ketchup) that may be shopping for a new ad agency. Stan pounces on this information, draws up a proposal for Heinz and implores Peggy to focus on winning the account. Peggy is obviously conflicted about the perceived betrayal of her former employer and friend who told her this on confidence.

We are left heading into next week’s episode unsure of how Peggy will handle the conflict between her conscience and her desire to realize her full creative and career potential. Will she go after Heinz, a play that will be hard to conceal in the incestuous New York ad agency business?

Peggy’s boss reminds her that friends and work are a separate thing. He tells her that “this is how wars are won.” Peggy heard a story in confidence. The information could be potentially lucrative for her business. We’re left to wonder if Peggy knows her business. She works for a cutthroat industry that makes a living on getting meetings and exciting potential clients with great advertising campaigns. In sales, getting the meeting is usually the hardest part and now Peggy’s team not only knows that the time might be right to reach out to Heinz, they can dream up a killer campaign.

I’ll leave the questions of integrity up to you. If Peggy fails to act on what could be a career-defining piece of information, has she failed to truly understand the nature of the advertising business? These issues can divide executives. They also beg a larger question. How can you drive your business if you’re not sure what you are really in the business of? Last week we focused on the importance of knowing who you are as a company. Equally important is knowing where you stand in your industry space. What is your competitive advantage? How do you differentiate your brand in the market? To what extent must your company identity mirror the industry in which you compete?

In Mad Men we have yet to see characters truly act in the best interest of anyone other than themselves. My money is on Peggy landing Heinz and maybe that’s as it should be.

Mad Men Lessons: Know Who You Are

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Last night AMC fired off the opening salvo in the sixth season of Mad Men. The episode begins with Don Draper and his second wife Megan returning from an apparently transformational trip to Hawaii. I began thinking, as many viewers do, that at some point Don Draper will have that moment of clarity or some kind of moral epiphany. We’ve seen what could be considered multiple “rock bottoms” from Draper so the cleansing time spent in Hawaii (a trip subsidized by a client with commercial property on the Big Island) might be just the thing to clear his Scotch-filled head and put some distance between Manhattan and all of his transgressions. As we found out, this would not be the case. Draper, pure to form, is still having trouble adhering to marital vows and possibly might be losing his Midas touch creating winning ads for his clients.

The episode was not one of my favorites but does reintroduce an important theme. Know who you are. As disciples of Mad Men know, Don has always had an identity crisis. In fact, he had to create a new identity in order to escape the life and history from which he came. We know that the you cannot escape your past and this has been an interesting subtext for the show, providing lots of plot possibilities and Freudian explanations for Don’s erratic behavior. In business, it is important that you have a cultural identity as well as a clearly stated mission. It is hard to find businesses today that do not state and form policies around a specific vision. You need a road map and a way to gauge your success as a company beyond the simple measure of profitability to your budget goals. Typically a company will have a set of clearly stated “core values” that reinforce the culture and drive the mission.

Volano’s core values are simple. Learn. Complete your work. Take Pride in your work. Adapt. Have fun. These values are prominently displayed in our office and remind us of what it is we are here to do, which ultimately creates a more meaningful client relationship.

Back to Draper. Don seems to do his best work when he abandons the struggle for identity and focuses on his work. This may be counterintuitive to leading anything resembling a healthy life, but then again, we don’t tune into Mad Men in the hopes that Draper finds religion, starts watching his carb intake and takes his kids to Baby Maestro for some wholesome fun. Draper freezes in this search for identity. But he knows what his business is. Don Draper understands us and his target demographics better than he understands himself and in that weird contradiction, he knows his business. Draper is in the business of playing off of our emotional hang-ups to stuff. He knows that successful ads manipulate our emotions. Remember the Kodak Carousel scene? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suRDUFpsHus)

In business, you have to understand who your client is, what they want and how to create the product for them that they require, whether it’s advertising or software. This requires that you know who you are, your corporate identity. That is your compass. It has yet to be seen whether Don Draper will find his. Hopefully not.

Who Am I?

How Succeed in Business Draper Style

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This last issue of Esquire had an excellent article on how Mad Men is applicable to our day and age:

The man in the gray flannel suit is the direct ancestor of the man behind the MacBook watching him…

A huge number of Mad Men fans are haunted by the same question that haunts Don Draper: What’s the trend?

This question is the basis of virtually every current intellectual struggle, from the creation of epic novels to technology blog posts, from Thomas Friedman’s op-eds to bankers’ briefing meetings. It is the question George Saunders had to confront every time he wrote a story for Tenth of December, and it’s the problem the copywriter who made the Pepsi Next ad for the Super Bowl had to figure out as well. What is happening now? What are we in the middle of becoming?

A while back I watched this special feature of Mad Men. It does a fun job of tying some sound business rules with examples from the previous four (at the time) seasons of Mad Men.

Season 6 starts this Sunday and following each episode we will write a post about one of these rules on how to succeed in business Draper-style and tie it back to what had transpired during the episode of the week.