High-Impact Entrepreneurship

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The mid-market briar patch

I needed a pictureReprinted from A Smart Bear. See original article here.

By Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine & Smart Bear Software.

During the summer, one of the Capital Factory companies developed a plan to sell into the “mid-sized” corporate market. Uh oh.

The startup graveyards are littered with companies who tried to target this seemingly alluring market segment — customers small enough to be intelligent and nimble, young enough to embrace new technology, yet big enough to spend real money to alleviate real pain.

It sounds like it’s best of both worlds. But the reality is it’s the worst of both worlds.

They’re not “small enough to be nimble,” because at fifty employees they’ve already established much of the lumbering process and bureaucracy of companies a hundred times their size. Shackled by budgets and internal politics, technology changes require expensive coordination and retraining, and fear of change trumps potential rewards of improvement.

All this makes for an arduous sales process just like with big companies. But although they have the process and controls of a large company, they don’t have the budgets to match; there’s no large reward for successfully navigating the painful, Herculean sales adventure.

Worst of both worlds.

Why is it like this? Maybe they’re stingy because they’re still being run by a parsimonious small-business founder (like me!) who is still straightening used staples to save pennies. Maybe it’s because with a few dozen people, the segmentation of teams, departments, roles, and behavior is inevitable. Whether because of physical limitations of communication or human tendency towards tribal behavior, we fall into semi-autonomous isolation coupled with formal processes to ensure command-and-control, and a bureaucracy is born, self-generating and largely inescapable.

Whatever the reason, it’s a tar-pit.

Then there’s the numbers game. There are 220,000 businesses in America having 50-500 employees, and only 18,000 businesses with more than 500. That’s often the argument for going after those mid-sized businesses — look how many there are!

But the average employee count of the mid-sized is 119 and of the large is 3,100, so if your goal is to sell a copy of your software to everyone inside a company, you have to sell 30 mid-sized for every large. Or looking at it another way, the total number of employees of mid-sized companies is 26m, whereas large is 60m.

And since the sales effort isn’t much different between 75 seats or 750, this is a lot more work for the revenue.

Even setting aside the internal machinery, “mid-sized companies” isn’t really a market segment anyway.

“Mid-sized companies” have less in common than you’d think; it’s much more important to know what industry they’re in. A 100-person technology startup has a certain makeup of employees — ratios of developers, QA, tech support, sales staff, HR, etc — whereas a 100-person plastics manufacturing company has a very different make-up, for example having no software developers, probably not tech-savvy, and IT is run by a guy who is a Windows “power user,” runs Exchange, hasn’t heard of Google Apps, and doesn’t know how to open a port in the firewall “my Cisco guy” installed.

So for example if you’re selling server monitoring software, everything about how to sell into these two companies is different: How you find them, what pain you’re solving for them, what that user wants to see in the interface, etc.. The fact that both are monitoring 100 computers is only vaguely “the same;” there’s more differences than similarities.

The most common argument I hear targeting the middle is:

“Small businesses have no money, and the large companies already use Entrenched Competitors X and Y, so it’s in the middle that there’s opportunity.”

But there isn’t necessarily an opportunity. Maybe your competitors have figured out that it’s not cost-effective to sell to the middle.

WP Engine is a perfect example of this. My initial idea was to target the “mid-market” of the WordPress ecosystem — bloggers and websites big enough that cheap hosting was no longer delivering the speed, scale, and support they required, but not big enough that they could afford full-time WordPress experts or the $2500/mo (and up) cost of Automattic’s excellent but expensive “WordPress VIP” program.

There are some drawbacks here to be sure. People with $50/mo blogs have many of the same problems as people with $2000/mo blogs but pay us 40x less, which might imply we should focus on the high-end blogger. But there’s lots of $50/mo bloggers who never call and never have a problem where the profit margin is great (even if the absolute dollar profit is less), whereas a $2000/mo blogger is constantly running into new speed and scalability challenges since even small changes to their configuration is magnified by 10,000,000 hits a month, vaporizing that so-called profit with expensive expert human time.

In other words, exactly the problems of “selling the middle” — with small-blogger budget meets big-blogger problems.

If we just chose one or the other, we could optimize the rest of the business around it — hiring, automation, marketing, sales — and maybe we should. (Actually we have a theory that there’s another way for us to solve this problem, but that will have to remain under wraps for now. I know, I know, I just said hiding your business plan is silly, but although I’ve shared our “secret” plan with dozens of people in person, it’s a little different publishing it in front of 30,000 RSS subscribers… at least, not yet.)

So my immediate reaction to anyone “selling to middle” is the same: Yuck. If you’re going to do it anyway, I hope you have some nice, extenuating circumstances that truly makes you the exception to the rule.

¡De una! One year in Bogotá at Endeavor Colombia, by PiLA Fellow Melissa Tran

After recently returning from a Princeton in Latin America fellowship at Endeavor Colombia Melissa Tran reflects on her experience.

De una, short for de una vez, has quickly become my favorite Colombian phrase. The literal translation for de una vez is “all at once,” but in Colombia, the phrase has a meaning that is closer to “Okay! Let’s do it!” or “Yes! I’m all in!” For example, a common response to a friend’s invitation to lunch would be a wholehearted, “¡De una!” After a year living and working in Bogotá, de una has also come to embody the optimistic spirit that I love about Colombia and its people—a willingness to embrace opportunity and say yes to challenges without hesitancy and with passion and enthusiasm.

One year ago, I came to Bogotá to begin a yearlong fellowship at Endeavor Colombia through the Princeton in Latin America program. Since then I have been working with the Search and Services team to help search for, select, and support high impact entrepreneurs in Colombia. The Endeavor selection process begins with a series of interviews between entrepreneur candidates and our accomplished business mentors. Our team facilitates these interviews in which mentors scrutinize and evaluate the entrepreneurs’ businesses for innovation, growth potential, and fit with Endeavor.

Entrepreneurs that make it through this rigorous process and past a local selection panel have the chance to present their companies at an International Selection Panel along with candidates from Endeavor offices around the world. Before each International Selection Panel, I work with our entrepreneurs to write a detailed company profile, which describes their personal history, as well as outlines all aspects of their company’s business model. Through my interactions with our entrepreneur candidates, I have learned that what distinguishes high impact entrepreneurs is a de una attitude—that is, an ability to embrace opportunities without hesitation—as well as the propensity to think big and a desire to promote social and economic change in their country and the world.

Luckily for me, my PiLA fellowship happened to coincide with Colombia’s turn to host an International Selection Panel in May. The ISP, as we call it, is an event that represents the pinnacle and culmination of the Endeavor selection process, where candidates pass their final rounds of interviews and are selected to become Endeavor Entrepreneurs. The process of planning this large scale event—hosted in the beautiful Caribbean coast city of Cartagena, and involving over 100 participants from around the world—was both challenging and rewarding. After many months of planning and coordination, it was amazing to convene such a talented and impressive group of entrepreneurs, mentors, and Endeavor staff from all over the world, and to see the Endeavor model at its very best in action.

Besides accompanying entrepreneurs through the selection process, I also had the chance to work closely with selected entrepreneurs as part of my work with Entrepreneur Services. Once entrepreneurs have been selected to become a part of the Endeavor network, we help them identify challenges that their companies are facing, and then match them with mentors within our network that can help. Through facilitating mentorships and work sessions, we work with our entrepreneurs on such diverse projects as launching a new line of business, designing a new media marketing plan, and expanding their companies internationally. It has been a truly humbling and inspiring experience to work with and learn from the many talented Endeavor entrepreneurs and mentors who are setting positive examples for future generations of Colombian entrepreneurs.

Fortunately, my year in Colombia wasn’t all trabajo and no play. Colombia is a country of amazingly diverse landscapes: from the expansive highlands of the antiplano, to the lush plantations of coffee country, and the jungle-lined sparkling beaches of the Caribbean coast. Here in Colombia, I discovered that half the fun of traveling is being open to adventure and embracing the unexpected and unknown. Five-hour truck ride with 19 other Wayuu passengers? An exploding game of tejo with locals at 2am? Salsa dancing outside with 10,000 people in Bogota’s largest central plaza? ¡De una!

Reflecting on this last year, the highlight of my time in Colombia has definitely been the many wonderful people that I have had the privilege of meeting. Colombians have a reputation for being some of the friendliest people in the world, a title that is very much deserved. I am especially grateful for my co-workers who have been so patient with me and have inducted me into the world of entrepreneurship and business in Colombia. Even though I was foreigner and a recent college graduate, my coworkers welcomed me as a respected member their team and always took my ideas and opinions seriously. They, and the many other Colombians and gringos whom I met during the last year, have made this experience worthwhile for me.

As I am wrapping up my one year in Colombia, I now catch myself using de una almost as much as a Colombian! More significantly, though, I have also adopted the Colombian approach of facing new opportunities and challenges with enthusiasm and passion. I am very thankful to have had the experience of living and working in Bogotá for the last year, and I hope that I can approach my next adventure with the same de una attitude that Colombia has taught me.

An Endeavor Entrepreneur’s mantra: wisdom from Daniel Daccarett

Nice SmilesAfter a recent Endeavor retreat for Chilean Endeavor Entrepreneurs, Daniel Daccarett shared some inspirational words about his experience as an Endeavor Entrepreneur…

I share with you my mantra which has helped me at various points in my life as an entrepreneur, starting from the day when I decided not to wait for opportunities but rather go out to find them.

I decided to look at every problem as an opportunity to find a solution. I decided to look at every night as a mystery to solve. I decided to look at every day as an opportunity to be happy. That day I discovered that my only rivals were my own weaknesses and that in these lay the only and best way to excel. That day I stopped fearing losing and started fearing not winning. I discovered that I was not the best and that perhaps I never had been; I stopped caring about who would win and who would lose; now I simply care about knowing that I am better than I was yesterday.

I learned that the best you can do is not reaching the top, but rather continuing to climb. I learned that love is more than simply being in love…love is a philosophy of life.

That day I stopped being a reflection of my few triumphs and started to be my own dim light of the present; I learned that being a light is worthless without lighting the path for others. That day I decided to change so much…that day I learned that dreams only exist so that they can come true.

Since that day I don’t sleep to get rest…now I simply sleep to dream. That day was May 14, 2002, when Endeavor opened its heart to me.

– Daniel Daccarett, Endeavor Entrepreneur


Daniel’s original words in Spanish…


Hockey tips for entrepreneurs: do you know where the puck is going?

Reprinted from wamda.com. Original article here.

By Christopher Schroeder. Christopher is an Endeavor network member and a former CEO of the social platform start-up HealthCentral which he sold this past January. He is also on the board of Wamda. You can follow Christopher on twitter @cmschroed

While not a huge hockey fan, I am a great admirer of the sport’s legend Wayne Gretsky. I simply am in awe when women and men come around in any field and dominate their craft; as an ever-curious entrepreneur I am fascinated by how they view the world.

I read recently that when Gretsky was asked what he thought about when he was on the ice, he paused a long moment and said: “I’m always thinking about where the puck is going, not where it is.”

This blew me away. It is really so simple, so obvious at a level. But when one is working twenty hours on the day-to-day mission at hand, how much stands in our way – or we let stand in our way – to think where the pucks we chase will be?

When my team and I first started HealthCentral, the social and content platform for people to learn and share their health and wellness experiences, one of the all-time great Silicon Valley entrepreneurs – a Gretsky of his field for sure – emailed me to say:

“Congratulations! Welcome to our world where there are two and only two emotions: utter euphoria and abject fear!” I knew what he meant by the end of the first week.

The euphoria is easy to describe – on certain days you believe with every ounce of your being that you are building that which was never been there before. Even the abject fear part is pretty easy. In one of our start-ups we must have had in the first two years alone three near-bankruptcy moments. I can tell you that in my venture investing I have seen more investments than my wife would allow me to admit go crashing to zero. Failure or risk of failure – an acceptance that it is the norm in these ever changing technological worlds and, while it stinks, one must simply dust themselves off, learn, and get back at it – is at the essence of entrepreneurship.

But my friend wasn’t just talking about fear of failure in binary terms, but also the daily discomfort with uncertainty that can blind us from looking up and watching where the puck is moving. Some of us, but much less than one would guess in my experience, really thrive in daily uncertainty. The best of us want to innovate, we want to solve interesting problems, we want to have our opinion matter, and we assuredly want independence. But we often want to be told what to do and/or seek comfort in creating a tried and true “way things are done.”

With this comes two of the most corrupting forces in a fast growing innovation organization: first, a view that we are so smart that the way we do things are the only way; second, and a close sibling, a rising view that “we’ve always done it that way.” There is almost defensiveness in these forces – that somehow challenging existing, even recently developed, paradigms is almost disloyalty.

This, of course, is compounded when a company gets to scale. Pick your favorite example of the once unstoppable innovation juggernauts like Kodak, Nokia, Sony all taken on if not defeated by people who focused not on where and how they skated, but where the puck was going.

In fact, the bigger one gets, the more one risks looking down at their own skates. I can think of only two companies who looked hard at the way they did things and changed 180 degrees. IBM once had over 70% of their revenue tied to mainframe computing, clearly to puck-watchers destined to be overwhelmed by personal computing — and in less than two years they effectively exited it. Intel, who had made its name and a multi-billion dollar business in the commodity chip business similarly simply decided to get into more complicated processors.

One of my favorite stories from the latter was how Intel founder Andy Grove did something I’ve recreated 100 times since even in my early stage enterprises. He and his co-founder turned to each other and said, “Let’s go into the other room and come back and pretend we were our own board of directors. What would we do?” It was a short meeting. They knew the answer – leave the commodity chip business. But it took this simple framework to help them see the puck they only sensed was moving away for them for years.

In the world of start-ups if I’ve seen anything utterly consistent among the greatest world-class teams it is three things:

Complete, company-wide belief in, understanding of, and passion for the mission at all levels. Companies in Silicon Valley and New York City have drawn criticism for placing making money too hight in the last of priorities of late. I can’t, however, think of one that succeeded based on passion and vision alone (and I can name a few famous ones struggling mightily because of it). In fact, without a doubt, those who did achieve financial success did so as an outgrowth of passion and execution for their mission.

It sounds like a cliché, but people are everything. It takes very few naysayers and doubters to be real cancers in an organization. But the culture, starting with leadership, can inoculate here from the beginning if consistently applied in the years that follow. Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame is a Gretsky in entrepreneurship across more than one sport and I love the policy he and his team adopted: paying people to leave their company. If for a few thousand bucks you’d leave, you were never in to begin with, and you were more than likely to be one of those cultural cancers.

Tony is rare – and few seem willing to go this far. But world class organizations have people: knowing and utterly committed to the mission; knowing how they fit in the mission and can impact it; knowing how one can grow in their career and skills; encouraging acceptance of failing and flexibility of pivoting to new realities; inspiring curiosity in all things; displaying in action genuine team work – not lip service. In one of my favorite portfolio companies today no one –regardless of function – goes home until they check on their fellow colleagues.

Finally, they really look and reward what Peter Thiel and one of his colleagues Auren Hoffman calls “unobvious connections.” Great companies understand what needs to be executed today, but they keep looking up – push each other to keep looking up — for the big picture of change. They ask themselves and execute on what could be. They are the customers and consumers that they seek – today, and where the puck of unlimited and ubiquitous technological innovation can take them.

What separates an entrepreneur from a high-impact entrepreneur?

Reprinted from BusinessTrade.org. Original article here

by Louis Nel

Entrepreneurs start their businesses seeking to generate a stable income from their ventures. High-impact entrepreneurs, alternatively, seek to grow a stable business that can make an impact. Here’s three ways to find out which one are you.

According to Paul Jones, representative of the Council of Innovation in the US and experienced angel and venture capitalist investor, there are four main differences between entrepreneurs and high impact entrepreneurs:

1. Vision

Most small business entrepreneurs start their business with the idea to attain a measure of stability in their financial life. That is why some researchers also refer to them as lifestyle entrepreneurs. Building a profitable business that can pay them a regular income is their main goal. They may want to build a legacy, passing their business down to next generation or they may want to sell the business when they retire in order to supplement their retirement investments, but the focus stays on regular income generation over the long-term.

High impact entrepreneurs, in contrast, are less worried about maintaining a regular income and are more focused on short-term operations and long term personal wealth. This can take place over 3- 5 years. It may involve building the organisation up to an exit transaction, where the business is sold off to a purchaser for a substantial amount. Funds can then be used to finance new high-impact entrepreneur endeavours.

2. Growth potential

For the lifestyle entrepreneurs, establishing a business that can be sold for a large value in the long-term (5-10 years) is not that important, as maintaining a business model which operates a level that generates their desired income and corresponding lifestyle. Consequently, the business is often run at the minimum of risk to maximum growth ratio.

Compared to lifestyle entrepreneurs, high-impact entrepreneurs have a larger appetite for risk. Their aim to generate long-term personal wealth depends on the short to medium value of their business. They may be more inclined to accept much greater uncertainty to achieve a much higher returns. Capitalizing on new trends, implementing innovative technology, pioneering new consumer markets are all characteristics of high impact entrepreneurs approach; this is a way to capitalize on ingenuity and  capture new market share while stimulating their businesses’ growth.

3. Measuring impact.

In an interview with Memeburn, a business and technology website, Anthony Farr, CEO of Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, acknowledged a link between high impact entrepreneur businesses and businesses that create jobs and economic growth. This in part describes the impact that these entrepreneurs make on the economies within they function. Small business entrepreneurs have an inherent incentive to streamline their business operations, which leads to little job creation. Alternatively, high-impact entrepreneur organisations often drive innovation and because their focus is growth, they tend to generate more jobs.

Jones states that one should not make the mistake of vilifying small business entrepreneurs or classifying high impact entrepreneurs as good or evil. Both entrepreneurs play an essential role in their respective domestic economies. Small business often makes up the core of the economies, providing stable job opportunities.  High impact entrepreneurs are innovation drivers and market creators. They are both needed and should both be encouraged is to grow and develop.

Founder/market fit, by Chris Dixon

Reprinted from Chris Dixon. Original post here.

An extremely useful concept that has grown popular among startup founders is what eminent entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreessen calls “product/market fit”, which he defines as “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market”. Andreessen argues persuasively that product/market fit is “the only thing that matters for a new startup” and that ”the life of any startup can be divided into two parts: before product/market fit and after product/market fit.”

But it takes time to reach product/market fit. Founders have to choose a market long before they have any idea whether they will reach product/market fit. In my opinion, the best predictor of whether a startup will achieve product/market fit is whether there is what David Lee calls “founder/market fit”. Founder/market fit means the founders have a deep understanding of the market they are entering, and are people who “personify their product, business and ultimately their company.”

A few points about founder/market fit:

Founder/market fit can be developed through experience: No one is born with knowledge of the education market, online advertising, or clean energy technologies. You can learn about these markets by building test projects, working at relevant companies, or simply doing extensive research. I have a friend who decided to work in the magazine industry. He discovered some massive inefficiencies and built a very successful technology company that addressed them. My Founder Collective partners Eric Paley and Micah Rosenbloom spent many months/years becoming experts in the dental industry in order to create a breakthrough dental technology company.

Founder/market fit is frequently overestimated: One way to have a deep understanding of your market is to develop product ideas that solve problems you personally have. This is why Paul Graham says that “the best way to come up with startup ideas is to ask yourself the question: what do you wish someone would make for you?”  This is generally an excellent heuristic, but can also lead you astray. It is easy to think that because you like food you can create a better restaurant. It is an entirely different matter to rent and build a space, market your restaurant, manage inventory, inspire your staff, and do all the other difficult things it takes to create a successful restaurant. Similarly, just because you can imagine a website you’d like to use, doesn’t mean you have founder/market fit with the consumer internet market.

Founders need to be brutally honest with themselves. Good entrepreneurs are willing to make long lists of things at which they are have no ability. I have never built a sales team. I don’t manage people well. I have no particular knowledge of what college students today want to do on the internet. I could go on and on about my deficiencies. But hopefully being aware of these things helps me focus on areas where I can make a real contribution and also allows me to recruit people that complement those deficiencies.

Most importantly, founders should realize that a startup is an endeavor that generally lasts many years. You should fit your market not only because you understand it, but because you love it — and will continue to love it as your product and market change over time.

Thoughts from Fred Wilson: Entrepreneurs have control when things work, VCs have control when they don’t (with audio)

Reprinted from Fred Wilson’s A VC. Original post here.

I did an interview yesterday in Buffalo, NY where I was the past couple days for the launch of the Z80 incubator. Grove Potter, the Business Editor for the Buffalo News, interviewed me for something like an hour. It was a fun talk.

At one point he asked me about the issue of entrepreneurs giving up control of their companies to VCs. It’s an interesting issue and one that I think is not well understood.

In theory, control of a company rests with the ownership split between the founder and the investors and how the Board of the Company is set up. If the founder/entrepreneur owns more than 50% of the company and controls more than half of the board seats, then he or she has “control” of the Company.

But in reality I have found things are very different than that. And it all comes down to two things:

1) How well the Company is performing

2) Whether the Company needs more investment capital and where it is coming from

I like to think about it this way.

An entrepreneur or hired CEO can own as little as 5-10% of a Company but they can control it like a dictator if they are doing a great job running the business and the company is making a lot of cash flow and has no need for additional capital.

An entrepreneur can control 95% of a company and all the seats on the board but they can easily lose control of the business if they company is floundering and they need more money and the only investors who would consider putting up money are the existing investors.

This extends to the idea of who sells companies. My friend Dave Winer put up an interesting discussion thread a few days ago talking about the sustainability of social media platforms. It is an interesting discussion and one very much worth having. In the post that kicks off the thread, Dave suggests that VCs are behind the decisions to sell/exit companies.

I left a comment on that thread and at the end of my comment I made this point:

I would be remiss if i did not take a minute to point out that you are missing the person who is the most important part of this discussion and that is the founder. In big successful companies, the founder, founders, and the teams they hire to help them run their businesses, are really the ones in control. The VCs are often “along for the ride”.

VCs have control when things don’t work. Entrepreneurs have control when they do.

That last line sums up my point of view on control and that is why I used it to headline this post. If you want to maintain control of your company, focus on running it well or find a team to run it well, and make sure you have plenty of cash to operate your business and that you never find yourself in a position where you are running out of cash and have nowhere to go but your exisiting investors. Do those two things well and you will be in control for as long as you want to be in control.

What’s your definition of entrepreneurship?

they have a pretty nice website

By Sarah Sykora, Chief Marketing Officer at Babson College

Before Endeavor, the word entrepreneurship did not exist in certain languages like Portuguese. Endeavor Entrepreneurs did not know they were entrepreneurs until they entered the Endeavor Search & Selection process. We’ve come far in 15 years since the Argentine taxi cab driver with a PhD asked Endeavor co-founder and CEO Linda Rottenberg, “How can I possibly start my own company when I don’t even have a garage?”

There has been a long-held notion about entrepreneurs that they begin their path to superstardom by tinkering in garages, coding in coffee shops, and networking in Silicon Valley. While this is an accurate definition of some entrepreneurs, we know that you don’t need to do these things to be defined as an entrepreneur.

In the U.S., we currently face economic uncertainty and a rapidly changing global job market where the need for and existence of entrepreneurs absolutely shatters this former notion. Have you defied the status quo and created positive change in your organization? If so, you’re an entrepreneur. Have you ever navigated through bureaucracy to create and act on new opportunities to make a difference? Then, you’re an entrepreneur. Have you marshaled resources in constrained environments to take action on an idea? You too are an entrepreneur.

Babson College also believes in entrepreneurship as a method, not a job description, and that it’s applicable to people everywhere who create economic and social value in all types of contexts. To empower these entrepreneurs of all kinds, they’ve created a movement to redefine entrepreneurship, inviting people to share their definitions of the word at define.babson.edu.

Since January, more than 100,000 people from more than 140 countries have visited define.babson.edu, and they have amassed more than 2,000 definitions from entrepreneurs in all types of occupations—from lawyers to shoe designers to UX developers and stay-at-home moms. It is clear that people everywhere agree that entrepreneurship is more than its dictionary definition, and, the more that we practice it in all contexts—taking action to create positive change—the better our world will be.

How do your actions prove that you’re an entrepreneur? Join the movement to tell the world that entrepreneurship is more than a job title, and share what it means to you at define.babson.edu.


Why your brand is dead in the water

Intern think's drew's website needs an updateReprinted from Drew’s Marketing Minute. Original article here.

By Drew McLellan, a 25+ year marketing agency veteran who lives for creating “a ha” moments for his clients, clients’ customers, peers and audiences across the land.

Here’s how most brand evolve.  The organization’s leadership huddles up at a corporate retreat (or if it’s a start-up, around the kitchen table) and decide on a tagline and maybe a logo.

The tagline becomes the battle cry of the brand and they’re off to the races.

Or worse yet…the organization hires an agency who claims to “do branding” and after a little deliberation, the ads have the new tagline and logo and voila, the brand is launched.

Fast forward 6 months or maybe a year.  The tagline and the brand are limping along.  No one really uses them anymore.  And if they do, they think of it as the “theme of the month” and assume it will just go away over time.  And it does.

There are many reasons why a brand fails….but the biggest one in my opinion is that the employees are not properly engaged and connected to the brand.  Without a huge investment of time, energy and some money — the brand remains a superficial cloak that can easily be pulled off or shrugged off when it gets to be a challenge.

Your employees are the key to a brand’s long term success.  It’s that simple.

When we are asked to develop a brand for a client, we require the step we have dubbed “seeding the brand” which is the whole idea of introducing the brand promise to the employees and letting them take ownership of it — deciding how to deliver the promise, how to remove the barriers to keeping the promise and how to keep the brand alive inside the organization.

If a client won’t agree to implementing that stage of the process, we won’t do their brand work.  No ifs, ands or buts. Why? Because it won’t work without that step. And I don’t believe we should take their money if we can’t deliver success.

Discovering and then building a brand takes a village.  And you have to start by including your own villagers.

eMBA field report: leveraging private sector efficiency to improve education for disadvantaged groups in Mexico

Mutu Vengesayi is an MBA candidate at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and is interning with Endeavor Entrepreneur company Enova in Mexico through Endeavor’s eMBA Program.

Approaching the midpoint of my internship, I am struck by how quickly and comfortably I have settled in at both Enova and in Mexico City. This is largely due to the collegial, relaxed and inclusive culture at Enova that has made working here both fun and fulfilling. That the company’s entrepreneurs have succeeded in creating such a pleasant work environment without detracting from the urgency of their mission is that much more impressive. As Enova undergoes an aggressive expansion over the next few years, it will certainly be faced with a myriad of challenges and undergo significant changes. However, judging from my short time at the company, it is clear to me the talent and temperament to make this transition as smooth as possible are in place.

Enova, in partnership with the government of the State of Mexico, runs 70 educational centers targeting disadvantaged communities across the state. These centers provide a surprisingly comprehensive range of educational services, ranging from supplemental after-school classes for public school students to adult education for women. The company plans to expand seven fold within the next four years to 500 centers across the entire country. My role has revolved around the strategic planning for this expansion. Though I’ve mainly focused on helping to develop the financial model for the expansion, I’ve also gotten exposure to planning for an effective expansion of the company’s operational functions. The scope of my work has allowed me to experience firsthand the dynamism of Enova’s leadership team. The company is run by three entrepreneurs, Mois Cherem, Raul Maldonado and Jorge Camil Starr. Because their talents complement each other extremely well, each has been able to focus on running a different aspect of Enova, which has allowed the company to grown rapidly over the past three years without major hiccups.

I’ve spent my first few weeks in Mexico getting to know Mexico City better and have been impressed by its vibrant and diverse culture. Living in Colona Roma, where Enova has its offices, has certainly helped as the neighborhood is both charming and bohemian, and boasts a great selection of restaurants, bars, plazas and art galleries, among other things. Despite having initially been a little concerned by the security situation in Mexico, I have not encountered any problems and have felt safe throughout my stay here. I hope to travel more in the second half of my stay and experience what other regions of the country have to offer.

All in all, I am extremely happy with how the eMBA program has shaped up for me. The work that Enova is doing is groundbreaking in many ways and represents an early instance in the emerging world in which the private sector has partnered with government to profitably and efficiently deliver higher quality education to disadvantaged groups. As someone from Southern Africa, I can see the Enova model translating effectively there. From a personal development point of view, the chance to work with Enova’s entrepreneurs has helped me better understand and frame what it takes to build and run a world class enterprise in an emerging market environment.

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