How to Build a Company: Part 3 – Market Research

Thus far we have reviewed the process of creating a Business Entity Type (e.g. LLC, LLP, INC) and the formulation of the Business Plan.  Now we need to look a bit closer at Market Research.

What is Market Research?

Market research is the process of gathering relevant data to help solve marketing challenges that a business will most likely face–an integral part of the business planning process. In fact, strategies such as market segmentation (identifying specific groups within a market) and product differentiation (creating an identity for a product or service that separates it from those of the competitors) are impossible to develop without market research.

The key process behind market research is to get to know your customer better than they know themselves.  The more through the research the more information one has to develop a new product and grow their business.  The smaller the niche the easier it is to develop a killer business model.  When we started Orbitz, there were only two other businesses doing meaningful travel sales online (Expedia and Travelocity).  We changed the online travel business model by making money by volume vs sales price through our unbiased matrix display showing the lowest fairs first.  Orbitz didn’t make a percentage of ticket sales price (e.g. 10% of a $1000 fare) like our competitors.  We established our revenue model around a flat fee per ticket sold (~$6 per ticket) requiring us to move significant volume and capture marketshare to be profitable.  It was easy to get new customers when our pricing was less than anyone else online!  The market void we discovered through our Market Research helped us build a profitable business that customers loved.

Orbitz Matrix Display

Orbitz Matrix Display

What is the Market Research Process?

Market research basically involves gathering two types of data:

  • Primary information. This is research you compile yourself or hire someone to gather for you.
  • Secondary information. This type of research is already compiled and organized for you. Examples of secondary information include reports and studies by government agencies, trade associations or other businesses within your industry. Most of the research you gather will most likely be secondary.

When conducting primary research, you can gather two basic types of information: exploratory or specific. Exploratory research is open-ended, helps you define a specific problem, and usually involves detailed, unstructured interviews in which lengthy answers are solicited from a small group of respondents. Specific research, on the other hand, is precise in scope and is used to solve a problem that exploratory research has identified. Interviews are structured and formal in approach. Of the two, specific research is the more expensive.

One of the most effective forms of marketing research is the personal interview. They can be either of these types:

  • A group survey. Used mostly by big business, group interviews or focus groups are useful brainstorming tools for getting information on product ideas, buying preferences, and purchasing decisions among certain populations.
    • NOTE: Survey Monkey is a tool very often used to quickly reach and gather results.
  • The in-depth interview. These one-on-one interviews are either focused or nondirective. Focused interviews are based on questions selected ahead of time, while nondirective interviews encourage respondents to address certain topics with minimal questioning.
    • NOTE: If a company is operating this is typically an easy step.  Contact existing customers and pay them something for their time.

Secondary research uses outside information assembled by government agencies, industry and trade associations, labor unions, media sources, chambers of commerce, and so on. It’s usually published in pamphlets, newsletters, trade publications, magazines, and newspapers. Secondary sources include the following:

  • Public sources. These are usually free, often offer a lot of good information, and include government departments, business departments of public libraries, and so on.
  • Commercial sources. These are valuable, but usually involve cost factors such as subscription and association fees. Commercial sources include research and trade associations, such as Dun & Bradstreet and Robert Morris & Associates, banks and other financial institutions, and publicly traded corporations.
  • Educational institutions. These are frequently overlooked as valuable information sources even though more research is conducted in colleges, universities, and technical institutes than virtually any sector of the business community.

Why do I need to Market Research?

The main issue I typically see is that an Entrepreneur who is developing a business believes they “Know” the customer and there is no need to research the market.  I see this mindset all of time.  What is surprising to me, however, is I actually see this problem in large well established firms more than startups.  I call this process designing “in-a-box.”  I have seen countless large firms invest millions into a program with zero market research then wonder why a product they launched failed. Here’s a link to an article that describes 22 epic product flops (http://www.businessinsider.com/biggest-product-failures-in-business-history-2014-7).  #22 is the ORBITZ drink!

That’s right, Orbitz was a soda before it was a travel website!  We bought the rights to ORBITZ from the bottling company, which is how we obtained our brandname.

The companies that are looking for help to get to know their customers better are the ones that tend to withstand the test of time.  Good examples of some proactive tech companies that spend the time and money to understand their customers and then utilize their research to create profitable products are Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and LinkedIn.  Prominent businesses that I personally don’t believe do an effective job understanding their customers are Yahoo, Twitter, Groupon, and Travelport (Travel GDS provider: Worldspan, Apollo, Galileo).

Apple does Market Research?

Those that follow Apple may think it is strange that I would list them as a market research company when Steve Jobs famously said, “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want. It’s hard for [consumers] to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”  Although the statement is technically accurate for a company developing a never seen product before, it is only the version of the truth that Apple wants to disclose publicly.

Apple spends millions of dollars understanding their customers.  If you’ve ever visited an Apple Store, I suspect that most of you would agree it is an experience like no other retailer.  It is hard to put your finger on why.  Everything in an Apple Store form product placement to the LED lighting and Air Handlers has a purpose geared to engage their customers.  Their retail model is so pervasive that not only do customers come back frequently for the experience, they are willing to spend hours waiting in line to get their hands on a new product.  The Apple Store success is one that most retailers research throughly. We certainly did at Walgreens.  The Walgreens Flagship Stores were developed using concepts we discovered form researching Apple.

Apple operates in a highly competitive market and they do not share their secret sauce with the world.  During a lawsuit between Samsung and Apple in 2012, the Apple VP of Product and Marketing, Greg Joswiak, testified that they do Market Research and got into detail about their process.  Mr. Joswiak said, “they survey customers every month…”  Then went on to explain that “if a competitor were to find out what drives iPhone purchases – whether it be FaceTime, battery life, or Siri – it would serve as an unfair competitive edge to rival companies. Further, competitors, as it stands today, have to guess as to which demographics are most satisfied with Apple products.”  Apple petitioned the court to have the records sealed (read more).

Conclusion

Hopefully I have convinced you to do Market Research!  The process takes time, but it pays off more than one can imagine.  I have seen good market research transform a business.  We put orbitz on the map.  We took Walgreens who was an aging retailer and in a few years completely transformed the business.  Every business I have worked with that embarrasses Market Research and creatively implements solutions to the problems the unearth benefits form extraordinary success.  I trust you will have the same results if you put the time into researching your market and developing products that your customers want.

 

How to Build a Company: Part 2 - Business Planning

How to Build a Company: Part 2 – Business Planning

The next stage of this series is intended to expand on what I have found as key elements that need to be addressed to develop a winning business venture.

I suppose some may think this article series is somewhat out of order.  Arguably one should formulate a Business Strategy before actually forming a Company.  It is the chicken vs the egg scenario in my mind.  I believe planning on the business structure to be formed early in the development stage is equally important.  A business venture should never be started without a solid foundation and liability protections in place.  

Brainstorming the Business Concept

The first step in tackling a business idea is to throughly research the market, competitors, etc. before getting too far into the rabbit-hole wasting time and money.   We don’t want to start an expensive hobby.  The point of creating a business is to establish and entity that can actually make a profit, grow and evolve.  A good rule to start off with is simple…If a zillion people are already doing the same thing then chances are the market is saturated (read low profit margin); however, if no one is doing it there may not be a need for the product or service in the first place.  Identifying an area in demand that is in a niche market is generally the best way for a small business to quickly evolve.  Regardless of the concept, however, it is critical that the idea is throughly researched.

Business Planning Word CloudTo start a plan of any type one needs to brainstorm the idea and get their thoughts on paper.  I often use a word-cloud that has linked short phrases on a notepad with the core idea in the middle — building out the concept as new ideas come to mind.  I’ve found that this method is one of the most efficient ways to test and develop a potential business idea.

The Word Cloud step generally forces one to think about areas where they need more information — competitors, pricing models, sales strategy, etc.  I typically take one area at a time and gather as much information as I can.  The point is actually to try to kill the business idea at every step.  Look hard and be honest.  Is there money to be made?  Are there customers that will legitimately buy from you vs a competitor?  How much money will it really take to get started?  Have other businesses entered this market and failed?  Why?

After researching a sub-topic, I then create a word cloud with that topic in the center and build out on it.  Competitors, for example, can be expanded by adding sections:  Who are they? Who are their customers?  How long have they been in business?  Do they have good/bad reviews online?  Who are the principals?  Are you connected through LinkedIn or other sources to employees and/or customers?  What products do the sell?  What is their pricing model?  Are they making money?  How many customers do they have?  What are their product limitations?  etc., etc.  When all of the questions are reasonably answered (don’t spend months on this task) I move to the next section.

The word-cloud process can really help hone in on a working business model quickly.  If there are areas that will nuke the idea they are generally unearthed during this step fairly quickly.  It is much better to move onto another business idea than to try to start one that will very likely fail.  Statistics work against startups.  Something in the neighborhood of 90% of startups fail within 24 months.    If you want to be in the 10% that survive category, don’t spend time developing a business that your preliminary research predicts will not succeed!

Market Entry Planning

The next step in the process is to be honest with yourself and build a market entry strategy. This should not be a Masters Theseus, but it needs to be complete. You need to clearly identify your market, you need to accurately estimate what it will take to create the product, and you need to realistically project sales.  The best product in the world is useless if people don’t know it exists.  Conversely if you don’t understand the customer-base it is very easy to create a product that no one wants.

Market research is the core to building a workable Business Plan.  No one can sit in an office creating an idea on their own.  They need to talk to customers and sincerely invest time into developing their go-to-market products and services.  Getting a strong handle on what people will pay is equally as important.  Again, the point of starting a business is to make money.  You don’t want to sell a product for $100 that costs $99.75 to create.  This is an area where you have to be painfully honest with yourself.  It is very easy to only see the facts you want to see.

See How to Build a Company: Part 3 – Market Research for more details on Market Entry Planning

Business Plan

There is a ton of hype and confusing information on creating a business plan.  I personally don’t believe it should be a novel.  Regardless of what you create, any business that survives long-term morphs into something entirely different than the founders initial intent.  I’m sure the early IBM founders never thought they would be making Personal Computers one day…  I know those of us who started Orbitz never planned to be owned by Expedia  — our #1 competitor — ever!

The key elements of a business plan need to stay simple.  If you are looking for investors then a section about the principal owners is very important.  A new business typically doesn’t have a working product or revenues.  Investors are investing in and trusting the founders.  If you aren’t qualified by yourself, look for others that can join your team.  I personally, and I know of many others, will sit on an Advisory Board for minimal compensation up front until the company gets going.  Others may be looking for the next big thing and join your day-to-day management team for ownership interest vs a big paycheck.   The more experience you have on the management team the better the market and investors will valuate your business.

The Problem

The most important section of a plan is to clearly describe what problem you are solving.  Are you reducing costs, are you filling a niche market, are you solving a problem no one realizes exists (e.g. Apple iPod/iTunes)?  It is very important that this section is well thought through.  If you aren’t solving a problem, filling a void, saving money, improving efficiency, or doing something that has meat on the bone no one will buy your product.  Understanding the problem statement is also key to marketing and sales pitches.  It should be tested, tested and retested on friends, family social network, etc. to refine this section into something that anyone can understand.  This is not a book.  The entire concept should be easily understood in a few bullets.

The Solution

After the problem is defined then the solution section is where you describe how you will solve it.  What products will you offer?  What makes your products different than your competitors?  Who are your competitors?  Why would someone buy your product over theirs?  The more compelling the solution is the more likely you will secure investors and customers.  Similar to the Problem section, the solution needs to be tested.  Market research potential customers, call competitors customers, hire a market research firm, send out Surveys, etc. and nail down the solution!

Expanding on the solution concept, this isn’t a section where all of the worlds problems are solved.  Out of all of the areas you will likely discover through research, pick one or two solutions that will have the widest understanding and market appeal then zero in on those offerings only.  Too many offerings will dilute your brand and confuse the audience!

A/B Testing

Up until this point I have written a lot about developing a concept.  What I want to make clear in this post is that none of this can be done in a box.  Testing the market early and often is the key to being successful.  I believe a lot of Entrepreneurs wait too long to get offerings to the market. They try to create the “perfect” product and miss the boat entirely.  I like getting a product out as soon as it is stable to test the waters.  It is better to find out early an idea is not working than investing months or years into a product no one wants.

At Orbitz, we were one of the first travel companies to launch a mobile app.  It was exclusive to the Apple iOS platform and would only allow search (had to call an 800 number to book).  It was simple, but it clearly showed there was a demand for mobile search, which then provided us with data on what customers were looking for that helped us evolve the app and justify the expense to develop on the Android platform.  For example, we observed that travelers would actually get to a city and then search for a hotel vs. buying one early.  That was a surprise to all of us.  We “assumed” that people would use the app predominantly to find hotels before they traveled.   What travelers understood better than we did was that hotel rates drop the closer you get to a checkin time.  If a hotel property has a lot of available inventory they will release more rooms to the online travel sites and often dramatically drop their room-rates to fill the property.  Watching pricing change via our app was an unexpected benefit to our customers that clearly helped grow our revenues.

Business are Dynamic

Businesses that survive in this economy are dynamic and ever evolving.  The business planning process is cyclical.  Work through the steps, A/B test, refine the process and evolve every section of the plan accordingly.  The key is not to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing that although may be successful one day could be nonexistent the next.  Apple is a good company to research that follows this cycle.  They find a niche market, they build a killer product, they gain crazy market share, then they start working on the next big thing in secrecy while their competitors play catchup.  When Apple sees sales drops and competitors taking their marketshare they launch the next game-changing product.  Companies that are in a proactive position will always be more profitable long-term.

Expanding on the proactive vs reactive business is why I believe startup businesses are viable and can succeed in any economy.  It is a lot easier to change the direction of a small company vs a large one.  Employees are also very close to the market as well as the leadership in a small business.  In a large corporation it can take decades for them to evolve.  The older they are, the bigger they are, the more profitable they are, etc. stifles creativity in most big businesses.  Large company employees know what is going on in the world, but they don’t generally have a voice at the executive level that has the authority to make changes.  It is an accordion effect in a large business.  By the time the executives see a market shift other competitors are materially impacting their revenues. What generally happens is the large company does what they do and opens their checkbook acquiring a competitor vs building a product in-house.

I personally believe that the build a very solid product, get noticed by companies with deep pockets and be acquired is a very good long-term business exit strategy.  Having the right product that a large corporation would want can instantly make founders millionaires practically overnight.  Having a clear end-game strategy is something that should be incorporated into a business plan.  Not many businesses are built to last 100 years anymore.  Venture Capital Investors specifically look for clear exit strategies.  The better an exit strategy is defined the more likely you will get a VC’s attention.

 

How to Build a Company: Part 1 - Business Entity Types

How to Build a Company: Part 1 – Business Entity Types

I have started over a dozen businesses throughout my career.  Some successful and some “learning experiences.”  I am fortunate that more have succeeded than failed.  I try to pay it forward for the blessed life I have had by helping others learn from my mistakes and benefit from my experiences.  I coach young Entrepreneurs every chance I get.  I am proud to see many of them grow to create successful businesses of their own.

One of the questions I frequently get when talking to people thinking about starting a business is, “do I really need to form a Company?”  After answering yes with zero hesitation, I usually get the deer in the headlights look.  With that WHY? look in their eyes.  Establishing a company and dealing with lawyers, accountants, taxes, forms, annual board meetings, etc. isn’t generally the first thing that someone wants to do.  I thought I’d write a series on what forming a company actually means.  This first post in the series will discuss different business entity types.

Sole Proprietor and Partnerships

One of the key reasons for a new business venture to establish a formal entity out of the gate is to insulate the founder(s) form liability.  Anyone can start doing business as themselves, but that comes with significant risk that isn’t always understood.  As a Sole Proprietor, one who is in business for themselves, the principal owner is 100% at risk for everything they do.  If they have an employee that drops a box on a customer, the Owner/Sole Proprietor is personally on the hook for damages.  Every personal homeowner, auto, and umbrella policy I’ve seen has exceptions that exclude professional coverage.  In other words, if you are sued for doing work for a business you own…your personal insurance likely will not cover you.  Simply hauling boxes in your car to a clients house could result in no insurance and policy cancellation if you are in an accident (even one not your fault). Employees with a grievance can sue for a multitude of issues that could wipe out a Sole Proprietor’s personal assets even if the petitioner doesn’t win the case. 

NOTE: The personal liability issue also holds true for the small multi-level marketing businesses such as Amway, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Herbalife, etc. as well.  The people selling those products, recruiting others, etc. are typically operating as Sole Proprietors and could be personally held liable by an unhappy customer or recruit.  

A side note on personal liability and insurance is the emerging “shared economy” business models such as Uber and AirBNB.  When one starts driving for Uber, as an example, they are in the gray area of commercial vs individual operations.  Uber covers a driver and passenger liability and the vehicle (with restrictions) under their commercial policy as long as a paying passenger is in the car or the driver is on the way to pick up the passenger (e.g. they have accepted the trip on the Uber app).  However, when the driver is waiting for the next assignment they are doing so under their personal Insurance policy.  Uber will cover a loss with state minimum coverage in some cases if the main insurance doesn’t, but an accent regardless of what sage of a trip the driver is in often leads to policy cancellation putting them on the high-risk list.  

Geico and other carriers are starting to offer Hybrid personal/commercial policies for drivers that is significantly more expensive (read: Geico Ridesharing Insurance FAQs)

Accordingly, when one lists their home through services such as AirBNB, they turn their private residence into a rental.  Most personal homeowner polices do not cover commercial operations such as rentals.  When operating either of these business types the person and/or property/vehicle owners are considered Sole Proprietors or Partnerships when the asset is co-owned.

Similar to a Sole Proprietor business, a Partnership is a company formed by two or more people.  The only difference from a liability perspective is that all owners are equally liable for business damages and losses.  For example, one partner could file bankruptcy leaving the other 100% responsible for all debts and liabilities.  A Partnership is not an equal split either.  One partner could be silent with minimal direct interaction with daily operations while the other could be fully engaged, yet when liability is handed out the person who has the most assets ends up being responsible. The percentage of involvement in the business has zero effect on liability in a partnership.

Partnerships and LLP’s

Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes, but if a partnership is what one wants then we have to look no further than the legal profession.  Most Law firms are LLP’s, which stands for Limited Liability Partnership.  LLP’s are unique in that there are legal protections that cover the owners (states have different laws though). LLP’s are considered a General Partnership arrangement, which basically means that every partner has an equal say in how the business is ran.  It is management by committee.  When there is a stalemate then effectively the hold-out wins since decisions can only be acted on when voted in favor by the majority.  It tends to be best to form partnerships with an odd number (3, 5, 7, 9) of partners to prevent situations such as this from occurring.

Another potential downside with both partnerships and LLP’s is that you can’t simply leave the group.  In the case of a traditional Partnership the Business would have to be dissolved if a partner leaves or dies.   A partner cannot transfer or sale their portion in a traditional partnership.  An LLP is somewhat different in that partners can be added or removed, but a majority vote of the remaining members must pass to permit a change.  The remaining group may actually decide they do not like someone a partner is trying to sell their partnership to and deny the transaction.  Liabilities and profits are also equally spread over all partners.  If the business has a loss, the partners are responsible to settle the debts every year.  They are also personally liable for their portion of a business profits.

Limited Liability Company or LLC

A LLC is a form of a Incorporation (Inc.) I will discuss shortly.  LLC’s are similar to a partnership where individuals can buy into ownership, but the main difference is that there can be levels of shares that can equate to voting rights  One person in an LLC could own 51% of the shares and bring in others while maintaining control over the Business.  Similar to LLP’s, profits and losses are generally spread across the owners based on the percentage they own of the Business.  The prorated gains or losses are incorporated into each owners personal tax return.  Depending on the success of a company and the wealth of each individual owner, however, the income tax liability may be significant.  Individuals are generally taxed at a higher rate than a standard Corporation.

Another key advantage of forming an LLC is that some states, including Delaware, have laws that enable an LLC to be single entity formed.  This means an individual, or another Company type, can create a LLC without any additional owners.  A LLP requires at least two named partners.  The advantage of a single-entity LLC is that this enables the business to be formed, bank accounts opened, leases signed, etc. by the business in preparation to bring in investors, customers, and/or other owners after the company has started operations.  Individual Entrepreneurs can create a business on their own to incubate and then go to market with a working business, which will have more value than an idea on paper.

I’m not a tax attorney, so I highly recommend seeking professional advice when it comes to taxes.  It has been my experience that it is best to form an LLC and change its tax classification to a Corporation.  There are tax forms that need to be filed for this to happen…again talk to a tax professional…  When an LLC is taxed as a corporation it then files and pays its own taxes.  Moneys paid out to shareholders are paid in the form of dividends that are carried on the shareholders personal income tax returns.  In certain situations, however, a corporation classification for an LLC can lead to being double taxed — the business pays for its income then the owners are subsequently taxed on their dividends, etc.  Shareholders can get hit with capital gains if the company is successful and they sell their shares or the business as well.

Standard Corporations (a.k.a. Inc.)

Typically when we talk about a Company we are talking about the Incorporation or what we see in many business names as Inc.  An Inc. is an entity of its own in the eyes of the taxing systems and can have a virtually unlimited amount of shareholders, stock classifications, etc.  When we see US businesses being publicly traded they are generally an Inc.  Other country’s have similar classifications that go by different names.  In the UK, for example, they have a company definition as a PLC (Public Limited Company), which is basically the same as an Inc. in the states.

Inc’s have a big advantage when it comes to raising funds while maintaining control.  A business could release millions of shares while the principals continue to maintain control over the business.  Walgreens Alliance Boots (NASDAQ: WBA) is a good example.  Stefano Pessina is the primary investor that owns approximately 45% of the publicly traded Company.  He effectively has implicit control over the $130-Billion per year business with billions in assets.  Mr. Pessina along with any other other investor that owns 5.1% or more of the Company makes the final decision on what the Company will do.  Shareholder meetings, voting rights, etc. have no material impact on how the Company is operated.

Inc’s have many advantages, but as an entity in their own right traditional Company formations are fully tax burdened.  The Company is responsible for its own income taxes and any financial distributions to shareholders, investors, etc. are fully taxed.  I generally do not recommend starting an Inc. unless a Business is clearly on the IPO track bringing in multiple stages of funding or has plans to raise money through a significant number of investors (e.g. Penny Stock or GoFundMe investors that acquire ownership in a business).

Although it can be a complicated transition that could require back-filing of taxes, ownership structure may be changed in the future if necessary.  At Orbitz, for example, we started the company as DUNC, LLC in Delaware when the airlines (Delta, United, Northwest and Continental) were the sole owners of the Company.  After the LLC formation the airline owners subsequently added American Airlines to the LLC.  We later formed Orbitz Inc. when we were preparing to go public.

Summary

Hopefully I have helped bring clarity to this confusing topic.   The main decision can be boiled down to asking a couple of questions.  Are you creating a partnership that will have equal voting rights for everyone or do you want different levels of ownership?  In general terms, if you want everyone to be equal form an LLP.  If ownership levels are needed, the principal founder(s) want to maintain majority control, a single individual needs to start the initial business, etc. form an LLC.  However, if you expect to be brining in a large number of investors through penny stock sales and other means that would require SEC oversight then form an Inc.

What is a Drone and Why Do Operators have to Register in a Public Database?

Why Do Drone Operators have to Register in a Public Database?

I have been an Airplane pilot for 29 years and have watched the aviation industry go through remarkable changes.  When I started flying GPS technology didn’t exist.  We had to navigate by looking at the contours of the earth using dead reckoning and pilotage, which are basically fancy terms for looking out the window (VFR).  Or we followed rudimentary radio signals to and from a ground-based transmitter if we couldn’t see out the window (IFR). 

The first modern area navigation technology for aircraft was a LORAN that used ground based stations that formed crossing radials from transmitters that could calculate an aircraft’s relative position through triangulation. To use early LORAN’s to navigate, however, was tricky.  Most LORAN systems didn’t have a database.  The pilot would have to key in the longitude and latitude for every waypoint manually.  A mistake could be catastrophic. When databases were incorporated they were stored on an EPROM chip that required a licensed Avionics Technician to update.  Sufficveoftosay, the units were rarely updated and not authorized for use for IFR (in cloud) navigation.  

1966 Cessna 172 with a top of the line LORAN upgrade (Top center)

1966 Cessna 172 with a top of the line LORAN upgrade (Top center)

It is fun looking back on the early days of flying.  Technology in aircraft didn’t materially evolve until the 90’s when a small startup at the time — Garmin — built an affordable GPS unit that could navigate by using Military-use-only satellite signals.  Back then GPS signals were intended to be used only by the US Government and had an intentional offset-error embedded into the signal.  Garmin corrected the offset in their software and paved the way for not only modernizing Aircraft they changed how the world navigates.  The GPS revolution was the first milestone that set the direction that made Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) possible and started us on the path that decades later that would enable Drone technology.  

2015 Cessna 172 Technically Advanced Aircraft Garmin G1000 Panel

2015 Cessna 172 Technically Advanced Aircraft Garmin G1000 Panel

Drone Evolution   

Mankind has had an interest in flying since the beginning of time.  Flying has been out of the reach for most people.  The cost is high and access to aircraft is limited.  It is no surprise that technology would enable the average person to fly.   

Hobbyist have been piloting remote control aircraft for decades, but the group of of enthusiast has remained relatively small. Typical hobby aircraft are difficult to fly, are expensive, and are actually more difficult to operate than a real plane.  That is until the innovation of the Quadcopter… 

There are three main difference between a traditional hobby airplane/helicopter  and a quadcopter.  First, a quadcopter is inherently stable and easy to operate.  An average person can learn to fly a quadcopter with minimal training.  Second, most quadcopters are equipped with a GPS enabling them to be self-aware of their altitude and location.  A traditional remote controlled airplane must be flown within sight of the operator or it will likely be lost and crash.  A quadcopter can fly well out of the visible range of the pilot and most can navigate themselves back to the starting point and land.  Finally, quadcopters are being mass produced and readily available.  Traditional hobby aircraft were generally only available through specialized stores and require complicated assembly.  

Drone technology, like everything technology, has evolved faster than the government can adapt.  The price of Drones continue to drop making them affordable and well within reach of most anyone who wants one.  

The Drone Challenge

Drones are very  capable aircraft that can be operated by virtually anyone.  From a consumers point of view it is a pivotal time.  Drones have empowered them to not only control flight they can take remarkable photos and videos that would otherwise be impossible.  From the Government’s perspective, Drones have presented challenges they were not prepared for: 

  • A Drone can be transported into National Parks and other areas that are off limits for flight.  
  • A Drone can fly hundreds of feet above ground into the same airspace as traditional aircraft and helicopters.  
  • A Drone can be programmed to fly a pattern well out of the visible and remote control range of the Operator.

Airspace incursion is a big concern for the FAA.  Imagine a police action where there are police and news helicopters flying in close proximity and a neighbor with a drone wants to see the action.  They aren’t communicating with anyone and could easily cause an accident or disrupt an investigation.

Airspace is closed when the President of the United States fly’s in.  A Drone can be carried into an airport and launched without detection.  They could potentially carry explosives or other nefarious items while rapidly and autonomously navigating to its destination with pinpoint accuracy.  

Expanding more on challenges think about aircraft on approach to an airport.  When an airplane is approaching they are flying in an area that should be completely free of other aircraft and obstructions.  Someone could fly a Drone into that airspace simply by not understanding the rules governing where they are.  Approach and Departure incidents cause more injuries and deaths than any other type of Aircraft event.  Someone could legitimately die if a drone crashes through the window of a jet flying 150 miles an hour or stop an engine cold if it is ingested into one at the worst possible time.   

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is Stepping in

There are hundreds of documented incidents where Drone pilots have inadvertently, or in some cases intentionally, broken the law.  They have landed on the White House lawn, crashed over sporting events, nearly missed aircraft on approach, are disturbing wildlife in National Parks, etc., etc.  The FAA is legally required to do something about this.  They regulate all airspace across the United States from the surface through the stratosphere at the edge of space. 

The first step in FAA process of getting control over drones is to get a handle on who actually owns one.  They created an online registration system and did a remarkably good job of making the process easy.  

The FAA registration site opened on December 21, 2015.  All that is required is to navigate to the FAA website, answer some questions, pay $5, and you are licensed.  People that owned Drones before December 15 have been given a grace period until February 19, 2016 to register.  The registration process is backed by Federal law.  The registration of Drone operators is mandatory in the United States.  

The Registration Challenge

The challenge for the FAA is that it is impossible for them to know who owns a Drone.  They can’t contact owners or get safety information to them without knowing who they are.  Drones are not licensed like aircraft, boats or cars.  There is currently no reasonable way to track sales of Drones.  

Over the 2015 Holiday season, the FAA reported 181,100 drones were registered.  However, they estimate that 700,000 were sold.  Without a process to enforce registration at the point of sale like cars, guns, airplanes and boats, it will likely continue to be a challenge to get people to register.  

Related Article: FAA Reported 181,000 Drones Have Been Registered

The FAA is working with Manufacturers to provide an easy means for Drone owners to register and compile a list of buyers for them, but the FAA has no authority to enforce Drone Manufacturers to do anything.  Incorporating registration forms, standardized aircraft registration numbers, etc. will add cost and complexity to something that has up until now been considered a recreational device.  Many of the Drones are manufactured in China and other countries as well that further complicate the FAA’s standardization efforts.  

Another challenge for the FAA is that their database is open to the public.  People that register as a Drone operator is searchable online.  Anyone can go to the FAA site and pull a list of names and address of Drone owners.  Operators are legally required to provide their real Physical address as well.  PO Boxes, Office Addresses and Mail drops are not permitted. 

Pilots, Ham Operators and other Federally licensed people have had to live with their data being out there for decades, but this concept is new for the general population.  People are not accustom to having their personal information available for anyone to find — especially with the daily threats we all see from hackers and identity thieves in the news.  

Will Registration Impact Drone sales? 

I don’t believe registration will have any measurable impact on Drone sales.  They are popular items that will continue to sell.  The problem is for owners that don’t register.  If they get caught flying an unlicensed Drone there can be stiff penalties and possible confiscation of their expensive Drone.  The best course of action is to register your Drone and check that you are ok to fly it in an area before you do.  

The FAA is trying to make flight rules easy to access for non-licensed aircraft pilots that may not be familiar with the rules.  They created an Apple iOS mobile application called B4UFly that shows airspace restrictions to users based on their GPS location.  An Android application is under development.  

Regardless of ones personal position on registration, I highly suggest that drone operators download the app and check it carefully before flying.  It is a good insurance policy in case an operator is questioned by law enforcement.  Having something to validate you can legally fly where you are in hand may prevent a drone from being confiscated. 

A final thought about looking before flying is that localities are implementing laws covering where Drones can be operated that may not be in the FAA database.  Chicago, for example, recently passed a Drone Ordinance that Bans Drones from flying over areas not owned by the operator.   That change effectively makes flying a drone anywhere in the City of Chicago illegal.  

Owning a Drone can be a very rewarding experience, but owner/operators are taking on liability and responsibilities that may be larger than they realize. Homeowner umbrella policies and insurance may not cover operator liability either if they are not in compliance with the law.  Bottom line is to Register your Drone and carefully research an area before you fly.  The risk of not doing so is much greater than the risk of having your personal information on the FAA Website.   

Happy flying! 

Orbitz the End of an Era

The End of an Era for Orbitz

Expedia Acquisition of Orbitz

Expedia announced their intent to acquire Orbitz Worldwide in February 2015 for $12 a share cash. In September they got regulatory approval and the nod from the US Justice Department indicating they will not try to block the deal.  The acquisition officially closed in September 2015 stopping all trading of OWW Stock on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: OWW).

Orbitz NASDAQ IPO

The stock trading stoppage isn’t the first time for Orbitz.  The Company has been an independently traded company twice.  The first time we IPO’ed was December 2003.  We were young entrepreneurs that all had the dream to go public.  We went out on NASDAQ as ORBZ with loads of fanfare and press.

2003 also the time when the scandals of Enron and Arthur Anderson were dominating the news.  Being a Chicago company, our auditors were Arthur Anderson.  We were required to retain a new audit firm.

 

Orbitz’s first IPO and Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance

Sarbanes-Oxley was being formulated back then.  Standards had not been fully defined and everyone was running scared from the fallout of the Enron collapse.  As a management team, we had to  shift our focus to SoX compliance.  Our executives had to personally sign risking their own assets indicating that every dollar was true and correct.  Our focus was diverted from building the best travel website in the world to accountants.

As the Director of Technology at the time, I was responsible for building the systems to ensure the company achieved SoX compliance.  A company technically has 2 years to become SoX complaint after going public.  Orbitz financials were based on a Calendar year (Jan-Dec).  Going public in December, however, shortened our timeline to 12 months since SoX compliance is based on a Company’s fiscal year.  It was a challenging time in our history to setup all of the systems and audit points required to be a public company.

I personally believe the focus on compliance took our eye off of the ball.   This was the time that online travel companies were emerging and establishing dominance in the industry.  Expedia owned the market and Travelocity easily pulled back ahead of us.  My memory of this period were that our stock price dropped after our IPO and didn’t rebound, our sales weren’t growing as expected, we weren’t gaining market share and we were struggling to be SoX complaint.  I assume these events and likely many others factors I am not aware of made us a good acquisition target.  Orbitz was acquired by Cendant Corporation (NYSE: CD) in September 2004 — 9 months after going public and 3 months before we had to file our SoX complaint financials.

Orbitz Acquisition by Cendant Corporation & Blackstone

The Cendant experience was an exciting time.  They had virtually unlimited resources to expanded the online travel portfolio worldwide.  We grew the online business through some very prominent acquisitions.  I was fortunate to be involved with several of these initiatives as a member of the Cendant Global Operations (GO) team.  It was an exciting time.

Cendant leadership subsequently elected to divest into 4 public companies (Travel, Car Rental, Hotel and Real Estate).  Orbitz moved into the travel division called Travelport.  My role at the time shifted to assist with separating various IT assets and contracts from Cendant to Travelport.  June 2014 the assets of Travelport were acquired by the Private Equity firm Blackstone Partners.

It wasn’t long after the Blackstone/Travelport deal was closed that the Board of Directors voted to consolidate all of their online travel assets into one company — Orbitz Worldwide and take us public once again.

Orbitz second IPO, Orbitz Worldwide

My role during this era shifted to assisting Orbitz with moving systems and contracts from Travelport to Orbitz and I officially rejoined the Orbitz team as Senior Director of Architecture (aka the A-Team).  This go-around we went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: OWW).

The second IPO has been a real struggle for Orbitz.  The Company not only had high performance expectations they were carrying obligations from the prior acquisitions and integration activities on their books.  As an example,Cendant acquired Orbitz for $1.2 billion.  The companies valuation dropped from the time they acquired us to the point when Orbitz Worldwide was formed.  The difference in the paid value vs the current value is carried as a loss on accounting books.

Orbitz Names New CEO

Suffice of to Say, Orbitz Worldwide did everything they could to survive, but the weight they had to carry was substantial.  Steve Barnhart, the Orbitz CEO and the executives were under intense pressure to perform.  Steve was a good man and worked harder than anyone I’ve seen to make the company work. He was devoted to trying to make things right for the company.  I am confident that Steve did everything he could to pull Orbitz through.  In 2009, the CEO of Travelport, Jeff Clarke, visited the Orbitz office in Chicago with a former Expedia employee, Barney Harford.  They met with Steve for about an hour then called an all hands meeting.

Orbitz CEO Barney HarfordDuring the meeting they announced that Barney Harford would be taking over as President and CEO of Orbitz and Steve Barnhart would be leaving the Company.

“Based on Barney Harford’s LinkedIn Profile, he held six roles at Expedia over 7 years (1999-2006).  He held several Advisory and Board positions the period after leaving Expedia prior to joining the Orbitz team.”

Photo of Steve Barnhart Taking the news standing by Jeff Clarke, CEO of Travelport.

Steve Barnhart with Jeff Clark

 

This is a photo I took during the announcement of Steve Barnhart being replaced by Barney.  Steve is standing by Jeff Clarke, CEO of Travelport.. Steve appeared to be dazed, but handled the situation professionally.  We all know how difficult this had to be for him.  

 

Orbitz Bumps and Mishaps

From the outside looking in, It seems that Orbitz has been involved with a number of high-visibility bumps and mishaps during Mr. Harford’s leadership.  I personally believe that one of the biggest was using Internet of Things (IoT) concepts to change search results to show more expensive items to Apple users:

Orbitz Shows Mac Users Pricier Hotel Options: Big Deal Or No Brainer?

Orbitz was very clear that they were not charging more for Apple customers, however, the cat was out of the bag.  The fact they showed more expensive options first assuming “Apple users” had higher expectations than people that used Windows and Android did not seem to be well received by consumers.

The concept of showing people that use different types of operating systems more expensive and different results blew up in the press.  I believe this tactic caused loyal customers to stop trusting Orbitz who was always known for displaying unbiased and lowest fares.  I know that I stopped using Orbitz after I learned of this strategy.  I am a devoted Apple user.

Being linked with Travelport resulted in Orbitz being pulled into a battle with American Airlines, one of the original founders of Orbitz, over adding fees to their fairs.  American and Travelport/Orbitz battled in court and American ultimately won permanently pulling their content from the Orbitz consumer sites.  American was one of the largest airfare channel partners for Orbitz.  Pulling those flight options appears to have caused material impact on Company’s sales:

Orbitz Is Tanking After American Airlines Pulls Fares From Site

Barney was a member of the Advisory board of Kayak from February 2008 – December 2008 prior to Joining Orbitz.  I have no firsthand knowledge of what transpired, but based on what I read in the press, Kayak stopped using Orbitz exclusively when pulling content they use to display to their customers.  Kayak was founded by former Orbitz associate Steve Hafner.  We had a very good relationship with them.  I have no idea why they would risk their partnership with Orbitz who was instrumental in helping put them on the map.  Orbitz filed a lawsuit in Chicago for breach of exclusivity provisions against Kayak.  Orbitz ultimately dropped the lawsuit.

Orbitz sued and dropped a lawsuit against Kayak

Another area that has seemingly suffered is the Orbitz Customer Experience that the Company was originally well known for.  We lived and died by the Customer the entire time I worked for the company.  We nearly always sided with the customer and did whatever we could to resolve issues.  A quick search of the Web is now full of customers complaining about the services received from Orbitz.  Here’s a few stories that caught my attention:

Flyer Sues Orbitz (and wins) Over Their Courtesy Cancellation Policy

Orbitz sued for misappropriation of data

Orbitz Sued by Customer for “False and Misleading Advertising”

Judge throws out lawsuit against 22-year-old computer whiz who found a way to get cheap airfare
It is unclear to me why they would do this, but Orbitz and United Airlines partnered up to sue a 22-year old kid that found a loophole and created a small website that anyone could use.   Personally I would think it would have been easier to close the loophole than for big Corporations to sue a 22 year old kid that was just trying to be an Entrepreneur, but for whatever reason they decided it was easier to settle this matter in court.  The case gained worldwide attention and was ultimately dismissed.

The End of the Era for Orbitz, not the End of Orbitz

I always thought of Orbitz as the Little Engine that Could.  No matter what came its way the company survived.  This time, however, things feel different to me.   The brand will no doubt be out there, but the DNA of what we built is likely going to dissipate.  Expedia now controls the majority of the online travel business.  They own Orbitz, Travelocity, Cheap Tickets and many other prominent online travel websites worldwide (see Expedia Global Network of Brands).  Based on my experience at Orbitz trying to do this very same thing with CheapTickets.com, eBookers, Away.com and others, I personally believe it is going to be difficult for them to maintain the uniqueness of Orbitz while simultaneously operating so many different brands.

It seems to me that consumer options to find cheap fairs are closing.  What we started back in 2001 was a company that was based on providing the lowest fairs possible to customers.  Now days it seems that one site vs another isn’t going to benefit consumers much when the back end systems serving up content is effectively the same.

China Trading Stopped for Second Time This Week

China Trading Stopped for Second Time This Week

China’s stock market tumbled and suffered its shortest trading day in its 25-year history on Thursday, January 7, 2015, as Beijing’s growing tolerance of a weaker currency intensified concerns about capital flight and the health of the world’s No. 2 economy.

Markets stopped trading about 30 minutes after they opened, as a newly installed mechanism to limit volatility was triggered for the second time this week.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended the dramatically brief trading day down more than 7% at 3125.00.

Pessimism spread quickly in the market after the People’s Bank of China set the daily yuan reference-exchange rate against the U.S. dollar 0.5% weaker compared with Wednesday’s level, marking the largest adjustment toward yuan weakness since Aug. 13.

The selloff was reminiscent of the similar but more drawn-out episode on Monday, the first day the circuit breaker trading curb was in effect.

The circuit-breaker system is triggered by sharp moves in an index that tracks that largest 300 stocks listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen, the CSI 300. When the index moves 5%, trading is automatically halted for 15 minutes, while a 7% move stops trading for the remainder of the session.

The CSI 300 Index tumbled 5% within 10 minutes after trading began on Thursday, which triggered the initial 15-minute halt.

When trading resumed, the selloff became even more pronounced and within five minutes, the CSI 300 Index extended its plunge to 7%, which brought the day’s business to an abrupt end.

More than 1,600 stocks fell by their daily 10% downward trading limit Thursday, according to Wind Information.

As Chinese stocks tumbled, China’s yuan fell as much as 0.6% onshore. In the offshore market, where the yuan is traded freely, the yuan fell as much as 0.9%.

The onshore-traded yuan is now down 1.5% for the year, after posting its largest annual loss last year. The daily fix was set at 6.5646 against the U.S. dollar, its weakest level since 2011. While traders had expected the yuan to weaken this year, the pace of depreciation has taken many by surprise.

The offshore yuan is now down 2.7% for the year, at a record low against the U.S. dollar.

China’s central bank attempted to soothe investor nerves and clarify its position, stressing the need to keep the yuan stable and at an equilibrium level, while attributing the yuan’s moves to speculators.

By letting the yuan depreciate, Beijing is acknowledging that the economy faces greater challenges this year and any boost that a weaker currency gives to exports would help, economists said.

While Chinese leaders have been trying to keep the economy on a measured path downward, investors are betting that the government will have to let the yuan fall further to maintain growth momentum.

The sharp depreciation in the yuan in recent weeks should—in theory—help Chinese exporters that were hit hard last year by the strong Chinese currency. A stronger currency tends to make goods more expensive in overseas markets. Since Aug. 11, the yuan has depreciated 6.1% against the U.S. dollar.

But China’s actions now have such enormous global spillover effects, which could blunt any benefits, analysts and exporters said.

In the business world, Chinese exporters say their overseas customers quickly demand discounts in line with currency depreciation moves, which negates much of the benefit that they would otherwise receive.

The same thing tends to happen in global currency markets as other nations depreciate their currencies in tandem with the yuan to maintain competitive position. “There certainly is a huge risk of currency wars breaking out,” Mr. Barron said.

The potential economic dividend is also tempered somewhat, since exports are now a less important economic driver than they were five years ago. Chinese companies now also face higher land, labor and environmental-related costs that have driven business to lower-cost nations, economists said.

Also Thursday, the China Securities Regulatory Commission announced after the trading halt that shareholders who own 5% or more of a listed company will be barred from selling more than 1% of its total shares outstanding, and will be required to inform exchanges of any sales plans 15 trading sessions in advance.

The trading limit, set to last three months, succeeds a six-month ban on sales by large shareholders that the regulator imposed on July 8, as it sought to halt the market’s summer collapse. The new rule is meant to “prevent concentrated share reduction” and “stabilize market expectations,” according to a statement posted Thursday on the CSRC website.

FAA Reported 181,000 Drones Have Been Registered

FAA Reported 181,000 Drones Have Been Registered

The Federal Aviation Administration reported earlier today that 181,000 drones have been registered in their database since they opened registration two weeks ago.

  • There are an estimated 700,000 drones that have been sold over the holidays.
  • People who owned drones prior to Dec. 21 have until February 19 to register.

The FAA said it is working with the private sector on ways to streamline registration including new smart phone apps that could allow a manufacturer or retailer to register a drone automatically by scanning an identification code on the aircraft.

“As of today, about 181,000 aircraft have been registered,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “But this is just the beginning. Now that we have set up the registration system, our challenge is to make sure everyone is aware of the requirement and registers.”

The FAA unveiled the registry for recreational drone owners on Dec. 14 and launched the database on Dec. 21. Owners of drones weighing between 0.55 pound (250 grams) and 55 pounds (25 kgs) must register and display an FAA identification number on their aircraft. Federal officials see online registration as one way to address unauthorized flights near airports and crowded public venues that have raised safety concerns across the United States.

If you own a drone you should register it before the February 19 deadline.  The penalty could be severe if you get caught flying an unlicensed aircraft.  They can confiscate the drone as well.  The registration process is easy.  Follow the link below to find out more.

FAA Drone Registration Website

 

Starboard Calls for Management, Structural Changes at Yahoo

Starboard Calls for Management, Structural Changes at Yahoo

Activist investor Starboard Value LP sent its latest missive to Yahoo Inc. on Wednesday, calling for a change in management and stepping up its pressure for a spinoff or sale of the company’s core Internet business.

“The past year has been an extremely frustrating one for shareholders of Yahoo,” Starboard wrote, pointing to a “continued downward spiral of the operating and financial performance of Yahoo’s core search and display advertising businesses.”

The company’s management team, hired to turn around Yahoo’s beleaguered Internet business, “has failed to produce acceptable results, in turn, causing massive declines in profitability and cash flow,” Starboard said. “It appears that investors have lost all confidence in management.”

Starboard called for a sale or spinoff of Yahoo’s core business, for which it said there are interested and credible buyers. Such a move would require a change in leadership, according to Starboard.

A representative for Yahoo didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday’s letter follows one in November, when Starboard took its gripes public after about a year of private talks. In its earlier letter, the investor criticized management but stopped short of calling for a change at the top. On Wednesday, Starboard was more forceful in its call for new leadership.

Maynard Webb, Yahoo’s chairman, told investors last month that the board hasn’t approved a sale process for its Internet business. But in a sign that many observers took as a signal that Yahoo is open to a sale, Mr. Webb said then that “the board has a fiduciary duty to entertain any offers.”

In November, Starboard—which owned 0.8% of Yahoo’s stock as of Sept. 30—also called for Yahoo to halt the spinoff of its holdings in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Yahooeventually shelved its plans to spin off the Alibaba stake.

The pressure from Starboard and other investors comes as Chief Executive Marissa Mayer has tried to suggest that reviving growth at Yahoo would take multiple years. Dozens of executives who had been instrumental to Ms. Mayer’s turnaround plan have left for jobs elsewhere, and The Wall Street Journal reported in August that the embattled CEO asked senior executives to sign a written agreement pledging to remain at Yahoo for at least three more years.

Ms. Mayer has said she would announce a more detailed reorganization plan on the fourth-quarter earnings call.

Over the course of Ms. Mayer’s tenure, Yahoo’s core business has shrunk. In 2012, when she arrived, Yahoo sales totaled $4.5 billion. In 2014, they were $4.4 billion. Over the past 12 months, shares have lost 35% through Tuesday’s close.

Shares of Yahoo fell 1.8% to $31.61 in premarket trading amid signs of a broader market selloff.

 

How to identify and set goals for 2016?

How to identify and set goals for 2016?

As we enter into this New Year we all tend to have a heightened sense of the opportunities and possibilities that 2016 can bring. The need for goal-setting becomes more obvious and clear. And the great thing about goal-setting is you can keep it as simple or get as elaborate as you would like.

The primary reason for setting a goal is because it forces you to focus on and accomplish it. What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get. That is why goals are so powerful – they are part of the fabric that makes up our lives. And goal-setting is where we create our goals.

Goal-setting is powerful, partly because it provides focus. It shapes our dreams. It gives us the ability to hone in on the exact actions we need to perform to achieve everything we desire in life. Goals are GREAT because they cause us to stretch and grow in ways that we never have before. In order to reach our goals we must become better. We must change and grow.

Also, goals provide long-term vision in our lives. We all need lots of powerful, long-range goals to help us get past short-term obstacles. Life is designed in such a way that we look long-term and live short-term. We dream for the future and live in the present. Unfortunately, the present can produce many difficult obstacles. But fortunately, the more powerful our goals (because they are inspiring and believable) the more we will be able to act on them in the short-term and guarantee that they will actually come to pass!

So, let’s take a closer look at the topic of goal-setting and see how we can make it forceful as well as practical.

What are the key aspects to learn and remember when studying and writing our goals?

Evaluation and Reflection.

The only way we can reasonably decide what we want in the future and how we will get there is to first know where we are right now and what our level of satisfaction is for where we are in life. So first take some time and think through and write down your current situation, then ask this question on each key point – is that okay?

The purpose of evaluation is two-fold. First, it gives you an objective way to look at your accomplishments and your pursuit of the vision you have for your life. Secondly, it is to show you where you are so you can determine where you need to go. In other words, it gives you a baseline from which to work.

I would strongly encourage you to take a couple of hours this week to evaluate and reflect. At the beginning of this month we encourage you to see where you are and write it down so that as the months progress and you continue a regular time of evaluation and reflection, you will see just how much ground you will be gaining – and that will be exciting!

What are Your Dreams and Goals?

These are the dreams and goals that are born out of your own heart and mind. These are the goals that are unique to you and come from who you were created to be and gifted to become. So second, make a list of all the things you desire for the future.

One of the amazing things we have been given as humans is the unquenchable desire to have dreams of a better life, and the ability to establish goals to live out those dreams. Think of it: We can look deep within our hearts and dream of a better situation for ourselves and our families; dream of better financial lives and better emotional or physical lives; certainly dream of better spiritual lives. But what makes this even more powerful is that we have also been given the ability to not only dream but to pursue those dreams and not just pursue them, but the cognitive ability to actually lay out a plan and strategies (setting goals) to achieve those dreams. Powerful!

What are your dreams and goals? This isn’t what you already have or what you have done, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down and thought through your life values and decided what you really want? Have you ever taken the time to truly reflect, to listen quietly to your heart, to see what dreams live within you? Your dreams are there. Everyone has them. They may live right on the surface, or they may be buried deep from years of others telling you they were foolish, but they are there.

So how do we know what our dreams are? This is an interesting process and it relates primarily to the art of listening. This is not listening to others; it is listening to yourself. If we listen to others, we hear their plans and dreams (and many will try to put their plans and dreams on us). If we listen to others, we can never be fulfilled. We will only chase elusive dreams that are not rooted deep within us. No, we must listen to our own hearts.

Here are some practical steps/thoughts on hearing from our hearts on what our dreams are:

Take time to be quiet. This is something that we don’t do enough in this busy world of ours. We rush, rush, rush, and we are constantly listening to noise all around us. The human heart was meant for times of quiet, to peer deep within. It is when we do this that our hearts are set free to soar and take flight on the wings of our own dreams! Schedule some quiet “dream time” this week. No other people. No cell phone. No computer. Just you, a pad, a pen, and your thoughts.

Think about what really thrills you. When you are quiet, think about those things that really get your blood moving. What would you LOVE to do, either for fun or for a living? What would you love to accomplish? What would you try if you were guaranteed to succeed? What big thoughts move your heart into a state of excitement and joy? When you answer these questions you will feel GREAT and you will be in the “dream zone.” It is only when we get to this point that we experience what OUR dreams are!

Write down all of your dreams as you have them. Don’t think of any as too outlandish or foolish – remember, you’re dreaming! Let the thoughts fly and take careful record.

Now, prioritize those dreams. Which are most important? Which are most feasible? Which would you love to do the most? Put them in the order in which you will actually try to attain them. Remember, we are always moving toward action, not just dreaming.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals. S.M.A.R.T. means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive.

I really like this acronym S.M.A.R.T., because we want to be smart when we set our goals. We want to intelligently decide what our goals will be so that we can actually accomplish them. We want to set the goals that our heart conceives, our minds believe and that our bodies will carry out. Let’s take a closer look at each of the components of S.M.A.R.T. goals:

Specific: Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures.

Measurable: Always set goals that are measurable. I would say “specifically measurable” to take into account our principle of being specific as well.

Attainable: One of the detrimental things that many people do – and they do it with good intentions – is to set goals that are so high they are unattainable.

Realistic: The root word of realistic is “real.” A goal has to be something that we can reasonably make “real” or a “reality” in our lives. There are some goals that simply are not realistic. You have to be able to say, even if it is a tremendously stretching goal, that yes, indeed, it is entirely realistic — that you could make it. You may even have to say that it will take x, y, and z to do it, but if those happen, then it can be done. This is in no way to say it shouldn’t be a big goal, but it must be realistic.

Time: Every goal should have a time frame attached to it. I think that life itself is much more productive if there is a time frame connected to it. Could you imagine how much procrastination there would be on earth if people never died? We would never get “around to it.” We could always put it off. One of the powerful aspects of a great goal is that it has an end, a time in which you are shooting to accomplish it. You start working on it because you know there is an end. As time goes by you work on it because you don’t want to get behind. As it approaches, you work diligently because you want to meet the deadline. You may even have to break down a big goal into different parts of measurement and time frames. That is okay. Set smaller goals and work them out in their own time. A S.M.A.R.T. goal has a timeline.

Accountability (A contract with yourself or someone else)

When someone knows what your goals are, they hold you accountable by asking you to “give an account” of where you are in the process of achieving that goal. Accountability puts some teeth into the process. If a goal is set and only one person knows it, does it really have any power? Many times, no. At the very least, it isn’t as powerful as if you have one or more other people who can hold you accountable to your goal.

So: Evaluate/Reflect; Decide What You Want; Be S.M.A.R.T.; Have Accountability. When you put these 4 key pieces together, you are putting yourself in a position of power that will catapult you toward achieving your goals.

Here’s to doing something Remarkable in 2016!

People are feeling better about the economy for 2016

People are feeling better about the economy for 2016

Good news! The world is looking at 2016 with much more confidence in terms of economic outlook than 2015, according to market research firm WIN/Gallup’s end of the year survey published on Dec. 31, 2015.

The research has found that an average of 45% of over 66,000 people interviewed in 68 countries had a positive outlook towards the economic situation in their own country in 2016, expecting it to be better than in 2016, and only 22% thought it was going to be worse (the remaining 33% didn’t expect changes or had no opinion). This is an increase of 3% compared to 2015—and a signal that people might feel things are getting better.

Leading the world in terms of economic optimism are West and South Asia, where 60% of people have a positive outlook, East Asia and Oceania (53%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (45%).

Sticking out for negativity—despite finally having started growing again— is the EU, where only 14% of people are optimists.

People with Positive Economic Outlook for 2016

People with Positive Economic Outlook for 2016

People with Positive Economic Outlook for 2016

A look at the results shows that the negative sentiments are found mostly among the richest countries: in prosperous economies (which the survey defines as G7 economies) only 18% of people think 2016 will be a good year for the economy, while in emerging economies (defined as G20 economies minus the G7) and aspiring ones (everyone else), 54% and 40% of people respectively have good expectations for the coming year. The most optimistic country is China—65% of people are looking forward to what the economy of 2016 has to bring.

Economic outlook for 2016 (by country’s wealth)

Economic outlook for 2016 (by country's wealth)

Economic outlook for 2016 (by country’s wealth)

But while the macro results show that those who have more wealth (G7 nations) tend to be the most pessimistic, the opposite is true when looking at the micro results: demographic-wise, it’s the advantaged who have the most optimistic outlook on 2016. Men under 34, with medium-high income and a university degree are the most positive—although overall no one beats Hindus: with 61% of positive responses, they are the group with the best outlook on 2016.