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May 2013 - Volano Solutions

Execution After Innovation

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I read an interesting blog by NY Times contributor Cliff Oxford @W_CliffOxford that one of our developers, Harry Berman recommended. If you have time, you should check it out http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/why-innovate-or-die-is-a-lie/. Cliff is a successful entrepreneur and makes a few good points in this blog about how important it is for fast growth businesses to focus on execution after innovation. He discusses the discipline of saying “no” to good ideas that might distract from the work needed to deliver on the promise of your existing innovation.

Oxford drops a great Steve Jobs quote, and one I’d heard before but forgotten. “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” Apple is of course the classic example of a company who decided to focus on making a relatively small suite of products really, really good. Apparently they’ve been equally innovative in their masterful tax dodge but I digress. It does get me thinking of the disproportionate attention given to great innovation in business when the realization of that great product in the market is wholly dependent on the rather unsexy business of sound marketing, consistent sales and relationship building. Volano faces these questions daily in our pursuit of innovative product development and sales execution.

For me, this idea of pulling back the reins on innovation, or at least offering equal attention to the execution phase of your business development sparks a larger philosophical discussion on where we put our time in life and how that translates into “value.” In business, revenue growth is a good benchmark for this balance. Life is harder to quantify. If we are surrounded by so many options and distractions (ever watch a 3 year old with a tablet?), we tend to spend more time doing lots of things and less time doing any one thing well. This might be a strained business life metaphor but I like that Oxford talks about the discipline involved in scaling back innovation and tuning down good ideas to focus on delivering on the old ones. His example of Skyzone (when did 28 year old kids get this wise?) is apt.

Have you ever been proud of turning down a great idea? Can the absence of that innovation manifest in the delivery of another one you chose to focus on?

Avoid Repeating Mistakes in Business

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This weekend was a good one for television and we needed all three of those days to absorb that drama. On a side note, it was refreshing that so much good programing was of the scripted variety; Mad Men was off the chain and the Netflix return of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” looks promising. This blog usually tries to tie in a business lesson learned from Mad Men, but any connection between Sunday’s soap operatic return to things and our theme of the importance of being humble are too big of a stretch for this writer. So instead we’ll discuss the importance of moving forward and avoiding regression. Why repeat something that did not work in the past when you already know the outcome?

Sunday’s episode of Mad Men brought is the unthinkable sexual reunion of Don and Betty. You could say that Don’s instincts were primal here or that maybe he sought refuge in a time where things at least had the appearance of stability. So much of my parents’ generation focused on appearance. You could argue in our confessional times that we share too much personal information. Betty’s intentions seemed to be more about gaining the upper-hand. Either way, this is a bad idea and could create problems for Don down the line. Roger tried to reconnect with Joan as Pete Campbell became reacquainted with Duck Phillips. The only pairing that makes sense here, sadly, is Roger and Joan, whose torrid early seasons affair seemed to demonstrate real mutual affection.

Business works differently. The advantage of longer-standing businesses is that over time, they’ve learned lessons and have case-studies from which direction can be given on future endeavors. Where to spend advertising dollars, what kinds of people to hire and how to engage and manage clients are largely learned behaviors. Mad Men took a step back into the past Sunday. Businesses should always have a healthy understanding of their history in order to be truly forward thinking. Netflix is a great example. They built a gangbuster business off of a simple premise, listen to customers and create a product that meets their needs.

http://www.insidetucsonbusiness.com/news/on_guard/a-case-study-in-listening-and-learning-from-mistakes/article_0bcc14ee-b356-11e2-b56f-0019bb2963f4.html

Netflix deviated from their model, flirted with irrelevance and a ceaselessly dropping stock price until getting back to what made them successful in the first place.

Leave the dysfunction to Mad Men and appreciate the value of what you’re business has learned from your past.

Grow Nebraska Marketing and Technology Conference

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Volano Solutions is pleased to have been selected as one of the speakers at the Grow Nebraska marketing and technology conference June 12th at the UNO Thompson Alumni Center. We’ll be in good company with Yahoo, Fat Brain Toys, the Omaha World Herald and others sharing their experiences with business marketing in the rapidly evolving technology arena. (http://www.omaha.com/article/20130520/MONEY/705209976).

Volano partner and co-founder Rod Smith will discuss the role of software in small business process management to a group largely compromised of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Grow Nebraska is a non-profit member organization whose mission is to create sustainable economic development by supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses through promotion, market access and education. The event will be a fantastic opportunity for businesses to share best practices, network with each other and facilitate growth. We’re excited to play a role in helping the Grow mission. Volano is a business and software consultant with years of experience helping small businesses reduce cost through process improvement and efficiency. Software has been the tool we’ve used to help companies grow.

Local food and drinks will be provided, including a reception afterwards featuring beer from one of this writer’s favorite local breweries, Lucky Bucket.

For more information on participating in the conference this year, you can register at (http://www.grownebraska.org/marketech/) or contact Grow Nebraska CEO Janell Anderson at 888-476-9632 or 308-493-5394 or Email: janell@grownebraska.org.

Be Persistent

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Procuring important business lessons from Mad Men is not always an easy thing. You can learn as much about business conduct and best practices from watching the mistakes made by the characters. Some of the most prescient business points can be taken through the characters’ personal conduct in relationships. Last night’s episode for me was all about persistence. In business, persistence is action and action is, with few exceptions, better than inaction when you are driving success in your business.

Chevy is putting SCDP through the ringer. Draper and Co have pitched seven ideas in six weeks at Chevy only to have Chevy demand another angle and in short order. The agency debates whether they should continue fishing or cut bait. Every business can identify with this dilemma. When you have a prospective client whose business can fundamentally change your revenue goals, status and size, it is hard not to do anything and everything to win the client. The risk is the distraction of the additional work and bandwidth required of your company to win business that may not be winnable. Often times, it is the things you say no to that helps companies stay focused and aligned with goals. At the end of the episode, and despite a drug-fueled, brainstorming weekend at the office, Don decides to take the proverbial foot off the gas on the Chevy account. This is a dramatic about face for a man obsessed with winning the business.

The psychology of Don Draper has always been the sub-text of Mad Men. Through flashbacks of his depression-era childhood and his erratic behavior with family, co-workers and lovers, Don’s persona of the bullet-proof executive with nary a hair out of place is a paradox. This is why people tune into the show. It seems that when he is at his lowest personal moment, he achieves some kind of triumph in the office. Last night we saw a man on the verge of a breakdown. His mistress Sylvia has had it with him and a complete role reversal in the power structure of their relationships shows Don to be powerless and confused. His absence at home and disconnectedness with his family was on display as well after robbery where his children were left in his apartment unsupervised. Perhaps Don’s decision to put Chevy off is the beginning of a major re-prioritization. When he chases the thing he wants, it runs away from him. When he shows cool indifference, things fall onto his lap so to speak.

Is saying no a strategy? Will Chevy chase SCDP when they have one less suitor jumping through the hoops of their ad approval process? Will Sylvia come back to Don once he gets his game face back? Don was searching for the perfect pitch for Chevy. He was doing this in the context of winning back Sylvia. He is getting closer to something and his persistence will pay off.

Big Omaha Recap

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Spreading, Sharing the Big Omaha Energy

We have returned! A handful of staffers from Volano Solutions are still bubbling from the energy, action, and enthusiasm of Big Omaha V. This year marked the conference’s fifth anniversary and, as in past years, the lineup of speakers was equal parts impressive, motivating, and thought-provoking. (Anyone remember Dave McClure?)

Volano Solutions was proud to return as a sponsor, offering up a variety of tasty snacks to attendees and speakers alike on Thursday and Friday.

And, we’d be remiss for not mentioning the much celebrated five-year club. Big Omaha organizers were kind enough to recognize those 50-plus individuals who have attended all five conferences, of which our very own Rod Smith and Don Stavneak are a members!

The pixel pushers at Omaha’s own GoodTwin even created 8bit characters of those Big Omaha faithful. Talk about clever!

We asked Kelly and Rod to share their thoughts on Big Omaha 2013.

Kelly Grace, vice president of sales

Most memorable? Catherine Rohr from Defy. The testimonials from the three former prisoners was powerful.

I was motivated by Marc Ecko and Noah Kagen. And I found Diana Kander to have pretty relevant points for testing ideas before seeking financing partners and starting a business venture.

Biggest takeaway: I found it really exciting that Omaha has continued to define itself as a hot spot for entrepreneurialism and technology. The conference was well-run, fun, and thought provoking. Dusty and Jeff have put together something pretty amazing.

Rod Smith, co-owner

Photo by Megan Hunt

The networking was good. It seemed like more out-of-towners this year; and, they were regional folks – not necessarily people from the coasts.

It was reaffirming to hear that starting something new is very hard, takes time to build, and isn’t for everyone.

I wish each founder would spend at least half of their time talking about their organization and how they built it. Many of us don’t spend our reading time studying up on who’s doing what, so we don’t know the founders’ back-story.

I like how Peter Hudson described his relationship with his business partner. Don and I have the same kind of yin/yang, deeply trusting setup.

Contrast: I like Ben Milne’s authenticity, but I also enjoyed Mark Ecko’s bigger than life presentation.

New Volano Intern Not Here to Fetch Coffee

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Volano recently hired Jordan White to help kick off development of new software product. Jordan, a Computer Engineering major at Iowa State is excited about the opportunity. “I feel very comfortable with the staff here. I like it at Volano and feel at home.” While most of his peers are taking summer courses or holding down restaurant and service jobs to earn some summer scratch, Jordan is writing pre-development narrative and technical project scope necessary to the design of databases and tables that will eventually become client interfacing software.

Jordan has demonstrated early on old-school work ethic, a positive attitude, sense of humor and an uncommon proficiency in darts for someone so new. Although he is not overly effusive, he is clearly driven. “I’m eager to get going here. I’m de-bugging a lot of my own code and learning now but can’t wait to start building software.”

Volano continue to engage clients and new clients in custom software projects. We are also rolling out the latest version of our workflow management software Steelwool this week. Having talented people is the catalyst to our continued growth and for out traction in the software product word. We’re excited to work with Jordan and it’s fun to see young people early on in what we are certain will be a bright, innovative career in computer software. The fact that he’s a nice guy whose biggest sin is his occasional deviation from indie music into 90’s rock makes him all the more endearing to the staff.

Never Let Them See You Sweat

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Last night’s Mad Men episode, aptly titled Man with a Plan was all about control. Don Draper added a new layer to his enigmatic character showing a penchant for sexual dominance with his mistress Sylvia. He also puzzled and out-maneuvered Ted by drinking him under the table in front of their direct reports, the creative team, presumably in an effort to undermine and erode his likable peer’s credibility. It would seem though that the man with the plan in this episode is Ted, who has been instructed by his cancer stricken friend and mentor to “give Don the early rounds.” He takes control back at the end of the episode by flying a plane with Don to upstate New York during a rain storm that clearly rattles Don’s cage and helps Ted reassert himself as a viable, cagey foe to Draper. Dominance is largely about perception. Confidence is the nucleus to establishing control and it will be interesting to see who blinks first. This week’s business lesson from Mad Men is never let them see you sweat.

A Confidence Game

The Harvard Business Review (http://blogs.hbr.org/) has a great piece on this very topic in their April 2011 issue. Tony Swartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project says that “confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance.” In his book Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live, Swartz says that insecurity is still a fundamental characteristic of everyone he’s met. The blog goes on to discuss the importance of having confidence, showing it and overcoming self-doubt. Clearly the characters in Mad Men responsible for winning and executing good ad campaigns bring specific insights and expertise that, if they collaborate, would be a killer combination. However, the egos and politics of SCDP, not unlike many companies in the real world, require first that you sell your ability before you can apply it.

Overplaying Your Hand

Big Omaha wrapped up this week (http://www.bigomaha.com/) and we’ll have more on that soon. One of the pitfalls that many of the speakers, most of whom were accomplished business owners and financiers said that put business in danger was hubris. It is a distraction. Last night Don overplayed his domineering hand with Sylvia. He also provoked Ted into taking recourse and possibly a competition that could hurt him and the business. Confidence should be followed by action and demonstrated in your work. Few people have broad ability scopes but most people are very good at one or two things. Confidence is a function of knowing your skills and leveraging them. Your peers and clients will provide you the support, direction and autonomy if they feel that you have a positive outlook on outcomes and are not easily rattled. As Hunter Thompson said, “…move confidently into their midst.”

Hungry? The Big Omaha Snack Menu

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As you may have read last week, Volano Solutions is sponsoring the snack and beverage tables at Big Omaha on Thursday and Friday.

We’re joining the excitement of the other 600 attendees who’ll network, learn, and have a little fun Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

And as sponsor of the Big Omaha snack and beverage table, we’re delighted to announce the tasty selections that will be available to fellow attendees (and speakers) this week at KANEKO.

  • Chocolate miniatures
  • Chewy granola bars
  • Nature Valley bars
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • Lifesavers mints
  • Starbursts
  • Fruit Roll-Ups
  • Chex Mix
  • Pita chips and hummus

Which options will you grab this week? Comment below!

We’re counting down the hours until Big Omaha kicks off, with the opening party this evening at Slowdown, followed by two solid days of conference speakers. Be sure to say hello at @volanosolutions on Twitter (using #bigomaha within your tweet).

Stand By Your Vision

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Last night’s Mad Men episode was one of my favorites of the season. The content would still make my parents blush but the elements of business, client management and strategic direction are a lot of fun to watch. It’s noteworthy that Mad Men has more adult viewers aged 25-54 with household income greater than $100,000 of any show on cable. People in business love this show. I think anyone who has experienced landing or losing a large client can’t help but contemplate what the characters’ personal distractions might mean to their business and to a greater extent, the idea of managing clients on the merit of your work and the marriage of your creative vision and the client need. The big names are fun too. Jaguar. Heinze. Chevy. Vicks. One thing has not changed over the last 6 seasons; the creative vision of Don Draper.

Define Your Vision

It is important that companies have a defined vision. A previous Mad Men business lesson was knowing who you are, an apropos theme given the seemingly fruitless quest for identity demonstrated by Roger on the therapists couch and Don on the bed of half of the wives in Manhattan. But having a vision, and articulating that vision end where execution begins. Blogger Kelli Claypool maps out a good starting point for putting your business vision on paper http://drmommyonline.com/why-a-vision-statement-is-vital-to-the-success-of-your-business. Harvard Business Review writers James Collins and Jerry Porras take it a step further. In a dated article http://hbr.org/1996/09/building-your-companys-vision/ they talk about the importance of maintain vision in the midst of changing landscapes. The concept of core ideology and envisioned future is an interesting one. “ The Walt Disney Company’s core values of imagination and wholesomeness stem not from market requirements but from the founder’s inner belief that imagination and wholesomeness should be nurtured for their own sake.”

Stick to It

Mad Men are ad men. They are in a business that requires a deep level of understanding about human psychology and American consumer habits in an age where data and demographics have not come to inform the advertising game. Understanding a client’s needs and desires and those of the consumer are prerequisite to the creative drafting table. The irony of Mad Men is that a man incapable of understanding himself has an innate ability to understand the desires of others and that is a vision from which SCDP has rarely deviated and why they have been successful, despite themselves. Check out this clip from an early episode.

It crystallizes the creative vision of Don Draper, which is to say the vision of SCDP.