The Arkansas Entrepreneurial Startup Desert

The Arkansas Entrepreneurial Startup Desert

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I really shouldn’t call Arkansas an entrepreneurial desert – though it did get you to read this.

Arkansas is, after all, the home of Walmart, arguably the world’s most successful family business in the history of mankind. And, it is home to 18 publicly traded companies, in a state with only two million souls.

Arkansas is also a state with a long and storied entrepreneurial history, that seems to have forgotten what it is that entrepreneurs actually need to succeed. Namely: what do neophyte entrepreneurs actually need to know in order to run a going concern?

What we do have is a burgeoning and growing ecosystem, giving a great deal of lip service to supporting entrepreneurs: new technology centers, innovation hubs, and startup funds are announced weekly. For every new startup pitch competition created, a dozen other pitch competitions already exist. Enough, already.

We have created a wobbly ecosystem designed to launch a thousand Powerpoint decks, and game gone-in-sixty-second contests for bragging rights and cash; a startup food chain, with lots of empty calories, but with little to no nutritional value.

And as a result – we are failing to launch healthy and sustainable new companies.

How do we fix this?

Well, we don’t need another startup fund. And we sure as hell don’t need another pitch competition.

We need businesses, and business people, who know how to keep enterprises between the ditches, making profits, paying salaries, giving back to their communities, and ultimately, fulfilling dreams.

People willing to sweat, and teach, the details of what businesses actually do.

Details like: Should my business be a C Corporation, an S Corporation, or an LLC? Should I incorporate as a native corporation, or as a foreign corporation? Should I operate on an accrual basis, or a cash basis? Will we be subject to state sales taxes? Are we charging (at all / enough) for our services in order to cover our run rate? What are the statutory reporting requirements for my type of business?

Details as seemingly obvious as: How do I close a sale?

These details aren’t simply questions to be answered after you “growth hack” an audience, or announce your break-out app at South By. They are foundational issues vital to the success of any – and everyBusiness with a capital B. The Arkansas Venture Center does a great job of dealing with such issues, through their Pre-Flight course, and through their network of mentors and business advisors.

If you find yourself in a “startup” group, and you’re the only one in the group who has ever created a business charter or filed a 941 form, congratulations – you’re the de facto subject matter expert.

And it’s well past time that those of us who have this knowledge continue to allow the narrative of the emerging Arkansas startup ecosystem to be controlled by entities interested solely in selling shovels to the miners, rather than teaching the basics of actually digging for gold.

There are solid business mentors around. And, there are plenty of people – accountants, lawyers, educators, and, dare I say it, “lifestyle” business owners – that actually know how to take in more money than you spend.

Seek them out. Use them. Invite them into the startup conversation.

For, if you want to successfully cross the entrepreneurial desert, you’ll need guides who have been there before, crossed it, and lived to tell the tale.

If You Cant Measure It…

If You Cant Measure It…

Measurement

This is the last post in a series I started last week, on how great marketing is actually just great storytelling; more specifically, I’d like to write today on the importance of assessment and measurement in your marketing efforts, and how measurement ascertains the success  – or failure – of your product storytelling efforts.

The saying “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is (perhaps erroneously) attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker. The idea being, of course, that if you can’t properly assess an activity using some objective methodology, then there is no way that you can determine how to effectively control the success of that activity (other than relying upon plain ol’ blind luck).

I agree – in part – to this statement. But it doesn’t go far enough in the importance of assessment to merely claim that we must be able to measure an activity.

Effective measurement goes beyond cold, statistical stock-taking; it requires reflective assessment on the meaning behind the feedback that you are gleaning from your data, not just the data itself.

Soak time, if you will.

Back in a far-distant part of my consulting career, I worked with a large polling organization and a large publicly traded hospital chain on patient satisfaction surveys. We were examining the rates of satisfaction from patients who were attended to in emergency rooms, and later admitted to the hospital, as well as those patients admitted to the hospital without going to the emergency room, first.

What was staggeringly obvious was that those patients who first went to the emergency room, and were then admitted, had a significantly poorer reflection on their quality of care than those patients admitted directly to the hospital, sans ER visit.

What was going on here?

Well, ERs are notorious for the long waits they impose upon (most) patients. But more importantly, you typically don’t go to the ER electively – you go because you are experiencing a real medical crisis. The trauma of the ER experience was being transferred onto the subsequent hospital stay, fairly or not.

Had the satisfaction data not been assessed from the story aspect of what was happening (patient to ER to Hospital), the context of what was actually happening was not readily apparent.

After the fact assessment is truly important to gauge the success of a product story; however, assessing and measuring engagement success while the story is being told is equally – if not more than – important. If you’re telling a story in front of an audience, you can tell the success of engagement through the feedback of yawns, smiles, claps, or raspberries you receive.

Likewise, a well crafted product or brand campaign will measure in real time the efficacy of the message as it is received.

Now – truly with traditional media, it is difficult to do this. How can one measure how well a magazine ad or billboard is performing? But for digital media, this barrier does not exist. In fact, real time measurement is one of the biggest force multipliers of any type of digital channel over traditional media.

Feedback and assessment must be baked into your brand story from the onset of the first strategy meeting. Otherwise, how can you react when you’re campaign isn’t producing the desired result you intended, if there is no way to gauge feedback? Or worse, your campaign has caused an unintended PR nightmare for being out of touch with 21st century social norms? Even though Kenny Rogers famously sang “there’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done“, that can be death to a brand – or company – if you wait until the end of a campaign, to react to what your story is doing in the world.

I’ve purposefully shied away from talking about specific tools for digital campaign measurement and assessment, for the same reason that I find the phone that Michael Douglas uses in Wall Street to be amusing, now. Time marches on, and new tools will always be coming along.

The important things to take away are:

  • You need to design in your marketing measurement methodology from the start;
  • You need to continuously measure – and react – while your story is being told;
  • and You need to assess the overall efficacy of the campaign once your story is complete.

I welcome the chance to hear your feedback on these posts, and listen to your thoughts on what I got right – and where I missed the mark entirely.

Happy Marketing – and, Happy Storytelling.

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Engagement: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Vizzini: Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.

– The Princess Bride

Anyone who has seen the movie The Princess Bride understands the humor in Vizzini the Sicilian’s exclamation; he has uttered “Inconceivable!” a dozen times in the movie, only to have what he deems to be “Inconceivable” become not only the possible but reality.

Social Media mavens /pundits / gurus /strategists are a bit like Vizzini in that they tend to think words means things they actually do not.

For example: Engagement. To most of the world, the word engagement entails a reciprical arrangement where something is expected of both sides. However, in the context of social media, what engagement usually means is that people are merely exposed to each other in some way, but very little is expected of any given social contact. I can Twitter til my fingers fall off, you may be following me, you may think we’re engaged, when in fact you may never respond to me. Some consider that engagement. It most definitely is not.

Another example: Friend. In most of the world, a friend is a person who will do most anything for you, regardless of personal consequence, because of amity, love, and dedication. There is prevenient trust implied. In the context of social networking, a friend is at best what one would call an acquaintance in the real world and implies only that a person known as a friend in any given nexus of the social graph is simply allowed access to you and your personal information with no expectation whatsoever of reciprocity or even fair treatment.

In short, social networking uses many real world words to imply the concept of trust and relationship, when in fact nothing of the sort exists online. You can no more “trust” someone you don’t know online without context, contact, and prevenient /pre-existing relationships. Yet, each social networking silo tries to mask this weakness by following, friending, trusting, joining, inviting.

Just because we call something by a name does not make it that name.

Social networking tends to amplify and force multipy our baser and better natures, but what it cannot do is short circuit the building of meaningful relationships.

That still takes time and active reciprocity.