Monthly Archives: October 2008

Rocking Chair Test

We all get busy with our day-to-day lives. One day runs into the next, one year into another… Before you know it we are down a road wondering what happened. I’ve met many people that are at a point in their lives where they are not happy. The sad part is they often have no idea how they got there. Their lives are completely different than how they thought it would be.

So what happened? The simple answer is that they lost sight of the ball. They got caught up in mundane tasks without keeping their eye on the big picture. The goals they set when they were young were put aside while they focused on the little stuff like getting the TPS report out, mowing the grass, taking the kids to school… We all have important things to do, but we also have a finite amount of time on this planet. It is important to manage our time effectively and prioritize what we should be doing right now. If we don’t, we will be that person wondering what went wrong…

Changing your life – Step one: Where are you now?
I am a big believer in visualization techniques, which is basically seeing something in your minds eye to the point that it feels real to you. Visualization can be used in many ways. You can practice your golf swing while laying in bed, you can calm yourself by imagining that you are walking on a beech, and you can even see yourself in the future.

The Rocking Chair Test
The Rocking Chair Test is what I use to keep myself grounded while helping me objectively access where I am. RCT is basically a method of looking forward in the future and imaging where I’ll be in 10-20 years based on what I’m doing in life now. I try to be as detailed as possible. What type of house will I have, will I be retired, where will I live, what will I look like, will I be wearing reading glasses, will I still live in Chicago, etc.

After visualizing where I will be in the future, I turn the tables and look backwards while sitting in the rocking chair thinking about my life. What did I do to get there? Am I where I want to be? Am I proud of what I did to get there? Did my life have meaning? Did I make the world, my company, my family, etc. better? It is important to be honest with yourself.

Sometimes it helps to start by looking back to things that really happened and think about how they changed the course of your life (e.g. getting married, your first job, graduating from collage, a loss of someone close, etc). Then look at imaginary things that may happen if you keep doing what you’re doing and their effect on your life.

There are two points of this exercise. The first is to get a real picture of where you are in life and if you are on the right course (Psychologist call this self actualization). The second is to help you see what you can change and the likely outcome if you do. Having these two pieces of information is very powerful. It helps you realistically gauge where you are in life and what you have to do to get to where you want to be.

Changing your life – Step 2: Change what isn’t working.
What’s great about self-assessment is that you have the power to change anything. If you don’t like who you are then change what you don’t like. Loose weight, color your hair, start being nice to people around you, etc. If you don’t like where you will be in the future then change it! Start by imagining yourself in the future you want. Then reverse the process to get to where you are now. What had to change to get you to the life you want?

Money is not the answer to this question. Money is a thing, making the money is the action you need to identify. In other words, if money is your limiting factor then you need to change what you are doing in order to make the money you need.

Changing your life – Step 3: How much money do you need?
The key to achieving to your money goal is to figure out what you have to do to get there. Let’s say you want $1 million dollars cash in 10 years. 10 years is 120 months/3650 days. Assuming zero interest, you will need to put away $8333/month to reach that goal. This is a huge number if you are working for someone else since the majority of the money you need to save has to be after taxes.

My success has been in building a business to a viable point and then selling it to someone that has a portfolio that the product or service I created fits into. Typically, businesses sell for 3 to 5 times revenues. BAM! $3MM to $5MM in your pocket from a $1MM/yr business overnight! And it doesn’t take anywhere near 10 years to do it!

Businesses, on the other hand, are much easier to grow into multimillion dollar money machines than an individual can. Even if that one individual is the only person running it. Why? The short answer is taxes. Unlike the general working population, a business has a completely different tax structure. Businesses pay taxes on profits; whereas, individuals pay taxes on earnings. In other words, if you personally make an income of $150K/year you will pay about 1/3 in taxes leaving you with $100K of working capital to pay your rent, put into savings, etc. Businesses write off their payroll, interest, depreciation, rent, car payments, health insurance, internet connections, phone lines, etc. and then pay taxes on what’s left.

The income a business is taxed on is what is left out of the $150K, which also lowers their tax bracket. Businesses clearly have the advantage. On the same $150K income, the business would have $50K more to work with than the individual. And if they don’t make a profit they don’t pay a dime in taxes!

Conclusion
I can’t say this enough…You have the power to change your life! You just have to decide to change it and then work every day to get it where you want it to be. Here’s the action plan to get you going:

  1. Get real about your life. Where are you right now?
  2. Visualize where you want to be in the future.
  3. Map a plan on how to get to where you want to be.
  4. Start a business and build it to a revenue level of 1/3rd of your target income goal.
  5. Sell the business and cash the check.
Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

The Importance of Rewarding Your Team

Although the idea of rewarding workers beyond their pay and benefits package seems obvious, some leaders avoid the practice, perhaps because they feel that showing appreciation undermines their authority, perhaps because they want to avoid stirring up jealousy in other members of the team, perhaps because they feel they don’t have the time to do it, or perhaps because they feel embarrassed praising people openly.

This is a shame, because these attitudes reduce their own performance, and all of these problems can or should be avoided. The most successful leaders are those who recognize and reward their team’s efforts. This not only builds trust, but it strengthens loyalty as well. Turnover is often much lower in teams that have a strong bond with their leader, and this impacts a company’s bottom line.

You should also remember that, for the most part, the world’s talent pool is shrinking – mostly due to declining birth rates, which leads to an aging workforce. This means that it’s becoming harder for organizations to find the people they need. Finding and keeping talented people is a key issue, and the companies that figure out how to do this now will likely be the ones that succeed far into the future. One of the best ways to keep these people is to make sure that their hard work is appreciated. If finding the few minutes needed to recognize people is a problem, just think how much time you’d have to spend replacing them!

Recognizing Their Efforts
Appropriately rewarding team members for something they’ve done takes some effort on your part. If you don’t put much thought into what you’re doing, then you may just upset the very people you’re trying to thank. This is why you should sit down with your team and find out how they’d really like to be rewarded. For example, if your team is about to start a major project, find out:

  • Which team achievements would people like to be rewarded for?
  • What kind of reward would they like, as individuals and as a team?
  • Would they rather celebrate with several milestones along the way, or have one big celebration when they hit the team’s goal?

Learning how your team would like to be recognized, and how you can show your appreciation, is a vital step toward making sure that your efforts will be appropriate.

When and How to Say “Thank You”
The return on appreciation is huge. Workers who feel appreciated are twice as likely to stay at a company than those who don’t feel appreciated.

If you think you don’t have time or can’t afford to show appreciation to your team, then stop and think about how much you currently invest in hiring and training new people. How much would you save if your staff turnover were lower? Probably a lot, which is why recognizing your team’s efforts is almost always cost-effective.

And don’t think that daily gratitude will “wear out” your team. Has anyone ever thanked you so many times that it lost its meaning? Probably not. It’s not likely that your team will ever get tired of receiving your appreciation.

Just make sure you’re sincere about why you thank people. And don’t rush the “thank you” while you’re on your way somewhere else. This WILL probably make your gestures lose their meaning. Stop, look at the person, and tell them how much you appreciate what they are doing.

These small gestures cost nothing except a few seconds of your time, but their payoff is enormous.

Thank You” Tips
Remember these guidelines:

  • Be consistent – Consistency is vital. If you praise often during one month, and then skip the next month entirely, your team will wonder what’s going on. Creating a culture of recognition and reward is important – so once you start, make sure you continue.
  • Be specific – Every time you praise people on your team, be specific about what they did to deserve the recognition. If you say, “Lana did a great job yesterday!” that’s not only vague, but it may cause jealousy from other team members. Being specific not only makes the person you recognize feel better, it also lets the whole team know that you’re paying attention. So, detail exactly what the person did and why it made a difference.
  • Know your people – You must know your team to reward them adequately. For example, if you know that someone loves art and music, then opera tickets or museum passes would probably be an appreciated, thoughtful gift. If someone else is a sports fan, then football tickets might be a great idea. Getting to know your team’s interests is critical to showing your appreciation well. Send out a survey, or question them about their passions. And write it all down so you don’t forget.
  • Make the reward relevant – Your gift or gesture should be relevant to your team member’s effort. For example, if someone comes in early for a week to make sure a project is completed on time, then a gift certificate for a great breakfast would be a good fit. If, however, the person just saved the company from a mistake that would have cost millions, then something more significant is needed!

Ideas for Rewarding Your Team
As we said earlier, chances are high that your team isn’t looking for a bonus check or pay raise to feel appreciated. Sometimes, smaller gestures go further and don’t break the budget in the long run. Here are some creative ideas to consider for showing appreciation to your team:

  • Offer flexible scheduling – not everyone needs, or wants, to be in the office at 8:00 a.m. Or, you could offer telecommuting days.
  • Send handwritten thank you notes when someone goes above and beyond the requirements of the job.
  • Create “free day” coupons that a worker could use for a free day off – no questions asked – without using vacation or sick time.
  • Take your team out to lunch – and then, as a last-minute surprise, give them the rest of the day off.
  • Give out “lazy Monday” coupons to allow a team member one “free” Monday morning off.
  • If you e-mail a team member to say thank you, consider copying that message to YOUR boss.

There are thousands of creative ways to say “thank you.” The great thing about these gestures is that they’ll probably be remembered far longer than any bonus check. You’ll show your appreciation – and, at the same time, you’ll strengthen the bond between you and your team.

Key Points
Leaders need to say “thank you” regularly. Your team members will likely work much harder if they feel that what they’re doing really makes a difference, and that their efforts are noticed by those with “power.”

Thank-you gifts don’t have to be extravagant or costly. Small gestures are often remembered longer than financial bonuses. These small, entertaining rewards can also help promote a sense of fun in the workplace, which may go a long way toward helping you retain key talent.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Location Aware Applications

A technology that is quickly emerging is location aware applications. These are apps that leverage mobile devices to pinpoint your geographic location. Google, as usual, is the pioneer in this area. They launched a location-aware product last year that is installed on iPhones and many other mobile devices. What they do is use the cellular network to pinpoint the users location even if the phone does not have a GPS. This is a nifty feature because they plot the users location on an interactive google map that is displayed on the phone.

This is actually simple to do. Law enforcement has been doing something similar for years. Google just detects the cellular tower ID’s (each one is unique) that the phone can see and then triangulate on them. The more towers in an area the better the accuracy. Government agencies do it the opposite way. The towers see the phone and pinpoints in reverse.

Google has opened up their location-aware API, which has allowed third-party developers to write applications that can interface with it. This can be used to get real time information about restaurants, night clubs, reviews, etc. Applications are also being developed that push the users location to the web.

The upload capability of location-specific information has already spawned an entire new type of business. What’s emerging now is that land-based sites are collecting this information and then making it easily available to other web-based applications. Fire Eagle, who is owned by Yahoo, is one of those companies. They are basically the location-aware middleman, which means that they act as an intermediary between different services that want to share location information. The big advantage for users is that you can control it all in one place. If you want to disable access by an application you just log into Fire Eagle and turn it off.

Why is this information useful? Fire Eagle receives encrypted location feeds from a number of different sources including Spot Messenger and then stores the location. As location aware applications become more common you can mix and match the service you use. Tell Fire Eagle to allow the iPhone to update your location and now twitter, Face Book, blogs, etc. that uses Fire Eagle will be updated as well.

Here’s my location plotted on the map. This map will automatically update to wherever I happen to be. I have this set to display city-level detail, but it can get to pinpoint accuracy. It is as accurate as the device providing the location information.


I’m confident that we will start seeing a lot more location-aware services. Everything form lojack-type vehicle location devices to child finders. Who doesn’t have a cell phone now days? Oh yeah, and let’s not forget Google just launched their own internet-connected google phone on T-Mobile last week!

It is taking awhile for the technology to mature, but no doubt location-aware services are going to be big. It is simple, people get it and it is useful. The right application will no doubt make its creators very rich. Call me if you have an idea for a killer location-aware app.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Zappos

I was reading an internal consultant blog the other day and he mentioned a company called Zappos. What caught my attention was they actually pay employees $1000 to quit (see Harvard article)! Yeah, that’s right. They pay new-hires $1000 if they decide after their first week of training that the company is not a good fit for them. Zappos’ 20 something CEO, Tony Hsieh, clearly thinks outside of the box. This is a creative way to mitigate an issue before it ever happens. It would cost them much more than $1000 if someone enters their workforce and doesn’t fit. I bet this policy has saved the company and their employees form a lot of grief as well. An unhappy employee can bring an entire organization to its knees (LL).

There are a ton of articles on the web about these guys. Most of them are focused on how fanatical they are about putting the customer first (see I Heart Zappos). Customer focus and maintaining their culture permeates their entire origination. They require every employee to go through intense new hire training. They also require that their executives work in their shipping warehouse for a minimum of one week before assuming their leadership roll.

Another interesting tidbit I discovered is that they don’t put pressure on their call center agents. They don’t limit call handle time; they don’t monitor their nonexistent abandon rates; they don’t offshore their call centers; and they actually empower agents to make decisions right on the spot. Their only rule is to put the customer first — and apparently they do. Take a look at their customer testimonials page. It is updated daily and is quite a list.

The Zappos story is an excellent example of a company focusing on Innovation and not Invention. They are in the same business as Al Bundy in Married with Children. They are selling shoes to average people like “Joe the Plumber,” not high-dollar items that cater to the wealthy. Guess what? It is paying off. They are making money and growing like a weed even in this economy!

Awesome Job Mr. Hsieh!

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

YourPrivateLine.com History

I’m often asked about how I come up with various business concepts and take them to market. Here’s a bit about how Your Private Line dot com came into existence…

After selling ITG I was most certainly not ready to retire and live on a beach. I wanted to create a new business. Although this time around I was in a precarious situation. The terms of ITG’s sale restricted me from competing with my previous company for 3 years. If If I was going to start a new business I had to come up with something new.

I sat in my office with a flip chart and started to think about the type of business I could create. I approached problem in the same way I would approach any problem. I started by making a list of things I could do. Then a list of things I thought I could sell. Then a list of things my previous company did.

Reality really set in when it hit me that my previous company basically did everything I can do! This was good when I ran ITG, but not so good when I can’t compete with them. Fortunately I do not take no for an answer. I knew there was a business waiting to be created. I just had to unearth it…

As I continued to refine the lists the solution surfaced. I could create a dot com business that provided sophisticated telephone system capabilities without customers needing to purchase costly phone system hardware. I had most of the skills needed to build the business and it would circumvent my non-compete agreement. ITG sold tons of phone systems, but we were not a phone company. We also built numerous ecommerce sites, but we were not a dot com. At that moment the concept of my telephony ASP was born!

As I’ve said in earlier posts, Invention is easy. Innovation is the hard part. I just drew the floating city in the sky (Invention/concept). Now I had to build a commercially viable business, which requires a business & marketing plan, logo, stationary, a website, sales material, payroll & accounting systems, business cards, federal tax ID, carrier grade data centers, capable employees, etc. in addition to actually creating the product (Innovation)!

To kick off the innovation step I did extensive market research. I had what I believed to be a good idea, but I needed to validate it as well as figure out exactly what I had to build. I interviewed everyone I knew and quickly discovered that most wanted advanced telephony capabilities (e.g. unified messaging, voice over IP, IVR, speech recognition, computer telephony integration, call logging, disaster recovery, follow-me calling, auto attendants, multi-language support, etc.), but they did not want to spend the millions required to build these services in-house.

We ran into issues like this with ITG all of the time. Every customer wanted everything, but when it came down to the wire they weren’t willing to pay what it took to get it.

When I concluded my interviews I was ecstatic. I validated that I was on the right track. Virtually everyone I met was quite comfortable with the concept of paying a monthly fee for access to advanced telephony capabilities.

The ITG business model was based on direct sales. You have to work non stop to keep “filling the sales funnel” in a direct marketing business. Accordingly, many of our projects were multimillion dollar engagements that took months to close. Monthly recurring fee businesses like YPL are nice because you have predictable cash flow. These are “Make Money While You Sleep” types of businesses.

I won’t go into all of the details it took to build the business here, but suffice of to say it was quite a lot of work. I had to create product road map, user interface (UI), construct the first datacenter, launch the website and hire developers to write millions of lines of code! I launched phase I of YPL approximately 6 months after conceiving it. The business was an overnight success. We had users throughout the world and a few out of it (NASA was one of our clients).

Although the business idea was very well received, marketing was what got it off of the ground so quickly. I used some of the tricks I learned when running a direct sales business to drive customers to us. We had thousands of unique website landing pages that were optimized to route targeted traffic to us (search engine optimization), we blasted the airways with commercials in key markets and I did a numerous media interviews.

Here’s a link to a Feb 2001 in Business First article that had a good overview of the business (All Lines Routed This Way). It’s fun reading this article now. It had quotes in it from me about voice over IP (VOIP) being a new technology!

Here’s one of our radio commercials that targeted small businesses and dot com’s. We were spoofing Auto Attendants in this one:

What I am most proud of is that the YPL business model was truly leading edge. We launched the worlds first web-based PBX system. We preceded Vonage, Skype, softphones, Avaya, Cisco, etc. How cool is that?

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Creating a Business Plan

So far we’ve discussed the key elements of creating a business:

  1. It is up to you, and only you, to make a change in your life.
  2. Be an innovator, not an inventor.
  3. Develop a product that fixes a problem. The bigger the problem the more you will make.
  4. Do what you love to do.

The next step in the process is to form your business and marketing plan. 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.

A potential investor will walk if you overestimate sales. They do Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) calculations every day. They will know if your numbers are BS. It is better to be conservative.

There are a few basic elements that need to be in your plan. It should have an Executive Summary, Problem, Solution, Business Model, Underlying Magic, Marketing and Sales, Competition, Team, Projections, Status and Timeline, and Conclusion. A tip on writing the plan is not to start with writing the plan! You should actually create your elevator pitch first. An elevator pitch is a business summary that you can recite in about 20 seconds. It should be clear, concise and peak the interest of anyone that hears it. Here’s an example of the one I used when raising capital for ITG:

“We specialize in improving the profitability of our clients by reducing their operating expenses and improving staff efficiency. Our target market is organizations that have 1500 or more employees that primarily rely on technology as a means to do their jobs. Our research shows that twelve-thousand businesses in our service area meet these specifications . We project a 10 percent market penetration by year three and we operate on a 42 percent fully-loaded margin. “

The reason you create the elevator speech first is because it is the easiest to write and change. You can try it out and see how it goes as often as you like. When you get the response you are looking for then break it out into a PowerPoint presentation and then into the written plan. In other words, create the outline first and make your English Teacher proud!

Another tip that is important is to keep the business plan short. It should be 20 pages or less. The longer it is the less likely it will ever be read. The Executive Summary needs to be the best thing you’ve ever written. It should only be one page long and blow the socks off of whoever reads it. You also need to know every inch of the plan so when questions are asked you can answer without hesitation. It is a good idea to get help gathering the data and running the numbers, but only one person should write the document. It needs to flow from front to back smoothly. A copy/paste job looks patchy, does not have a consistent voice and can introduce some embarrassing errors.

It is important to go through these steps even if you are going to fund your own business. You not only need to convince yourself that your idea is viable, you should run it by others as well. The more research you do the better. If you don’t you will likely be a statistic. Fail to plan and plan to fail…

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

With Change There’s Opportunity

When I was the President and CEO of Te am ITG I thought I’d never work anywhere else. We raised venture capital, we were growing rapidly, we were profitable and I was having a lot of fun running the business. It was the type of organization that fit me perfectly. We pushed the edge of technology and there were new opportunities and challenges virtually every day. However, all of this changed when an offer to acquire the Company came in from one of our competitors. Timing was right and it was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse.

After the deal closed, the business assets were transferred and the check was in the bank reality set in. I could retire and live on a beach or start another business. Retirement is not in my vocabulary, so for the third time in my career I was faced with the intimidating chore of creating a new business from a blank sheet of paper. This time around, however, it would be a bit more difficult. The acquisition agreement put limitations on what I could do. I was not able to compete with my previous Company for three years.

I am fortunate that my change came by choice and money wasn’t an issue, but many people find themselves in the precarious situation where they are on the wrong side of a reduction in workforce (RIF), their company was acquired/downsized, and/or something happened in their lives that forced them to start over. What I told myself then and the people I meet that is going through a transition is simple…With Change There is Opportunity. If you do not change something then your life will basically be “More of the Same” as the political candidates often say. People going through or thinking about change need to STOP and make the decision right now to change their lives for the better. You, and only you, are in control of your destiny. You can either cry about it or do something about it, but the decision is yours.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We all fall into this at some point in our lives. We do the same thing every day while daydreaming about one day having the “good life.” In all seriousness, the good life should be every day. If you are relying on retirement, a pension, investments, selling your home, etc. to provide you with the money you need to live however you define the good life you are betting your future on things that are largely out of your control; whereas, you are in complete control of your life and what you do with it.

I know it is a lot easier to talk about change than actually doing it, but the power is in you to make it happen. You do not have to change everything in your life at once either. You can go to work and devise your future endeavors when you get home. The first step is to simply make the decision to change and focus on it every day. I have seen this happen time and time again. Getting serious about changing something in your life will start aligning the stars around you. Thoughts are extraordinarily powerful. Don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself. Decide to change something in your life and think about it every day. It blows me away when I hear back form people that try this. I bet it will surprise you as well.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Invention versus Innovation

I enjoy meeting with people and helping them develop their business concepts. I tend to relate what they are trying to do with my various life experiences. When I do this, however, it is inevitable that I get a question like this, “Jim you’ve invented this and that. How do you come up with all of this stuff?” My answer to this question is that I am not an Inventor, I am an Innovator. My success hasn’t been in creating new things, but in making things that already exist better.

I suppose my answer sounds like semantics, but my intent is to change the paradigm of how they think about developing new business ideas and concepts. It is stressful for a new entrepreneur to create a product from thin air and make it commercially viable. I’ve found that they often eliminate solutions and concepts that are right in front of them. The goal is to get them to think about taking existing technologies that have already had time to mature and devise new ways to use them. Time to market is the key. The longer you wait to get an idea to market the more likely someone else will.

Invention versus Innovation

Invention is the act of creating something ‘new’, while innovation is the process of taking an existing concept or product and making it more relevant to the consumer of that product – better if you will. Invention is easy. A four year old can draw a picture of floating cities and flying saucers. The majority of great inventors throughout history were not inventors at all, they were innovators. Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone; Samuel Morse didn’t invent the Telegraph; Thomas Edison invented neither the light bulb, nor the movie camera. All understood the value of the concepts and tweaked them, sometimes for decades continuously to create success in the marketplace.

I have been successful in my career because I have focused on becoming a subject matter expert in as many diverse systems as I can (e.g. finance, hr, telecom, networks, crm, sfa, software development, etc.) and then I use this knowledge to rapidly develop “out of the box” solutions to problems. It isn’t rocket science, but it is very effective. I tend to look at a problem differently than most. I approach every issue with an open mind and apply what I know about the various systems to devise a solution. I also do NOT take ‘NO’ for an answer. My personal problem solving goal is “To have three solutions to every problem.” I pick three because it increases my success rate while keeping me focused on creating workable solutions (not a brainstorming session).

Creating a working solution, however, is not the end. It is only the beginning. To stay on top you must continually refine your innovations. Little by little. Google, for example, has applied over 500 changes to their search engine so far this year. By the time they release a new product to the world they have 100+ more queued up (see Google Labs) and ready to go. Not every one of the 500 changes Google has made is necessarily hard, but each one is intended to systematically make their product better. There ya go. I have just relieved the secret to how Google became the 800 lb Gorilla in the room…

NOTE: The technical name for Google’s development process is Agile Software Development. The strategy behind Agile development is to frequently introduce small changes instead of undertaking “big-bang” large deployment efforts. This is a methodology that keeps innovative company’s innovating while minimizing risk to the environment. Small changes introduce less risk and are easier to back out.

An example of how I applied this process is when I created Airline delay/cancel alerts for Orbitz and sent them to our customers via an automated phone call seconds after a change was introduced (often before Airline gate personal even know about it). We were the first company ever to do this and it put us light years ahead of our competitors. I certainly didn’t invent an automated outbound call. What I did was integrate airline systems, our customer database and the phone to provide a solution to a business objective. And the best part is that it took 45 days form conceiving the idea to going into full production!

Project overview: The Orbitz guiding principal has always been to be #1 in customer service. Providing industry-leading customer service is our key differentiator. The business objective I solved with the automated alerts (Care Alerts) was to provide that high-touch personalized customer service without having to individually call millions of customers when a flight schedule is unexpectedly changed. We simply could not do it in a timely manor. The customer care alerting project has been cited numerous times over the years as one of the key reasons why we have been ranked #1 in service by the Customer Respect Group and many others. The care alerting system also established the foundation for the OrbitzTLC program and spawned many other business initiatives.

In summary, to create a new business or idea you do not need to invent something new. It is as easy as improving a process or integrating existing systems in better ways. The easiest way to do this is to identify a problem that someone is having and devise a unique way to fix it. Businesses will pay good money to resolve an issue — especially when it is costing them money or hampering their ability to achieve a business objective.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Taking action!

Have you ever seen a sign that says something like “If you have nothing to do, don’t do it here?” The underlying message meaning do not loiter.

If you analyze this expression, it does make sense. But if you look at it in a deeper dimension, there is a strong message being delivered here – a message that has relevance to success in life. It is like a wake up call to the reality of life.

Your conscience is the one telling you to stop wasting your time, to do something with your life, and to do your best to achieve a goal. You have to listen to your conscience’s call because if you don’t, it is nobody’s loss but your own.

You must find out if there are any hindrances that are holding you back from moving forward in life. Is it financial condition? Is it social status, age, color, race, religion, educational background, gender, or a handicap? If you look at history, however, none of those mentioned above were considered hindrances. The explanation is simple. If you think you’re a failure, then you probably are. If you think you’re a success (even if you’re not yet successful), then the universe will work hard towards bringing you to fulfillment.

If you can’t decide on what you want, here are two simple guidelines. The first I’ve previously discussed — find out what you LOVE to do – and do it! This is following your heart’s desire. When you love what you do, you’ll stick to it, no matter what. Your level of perseverance is higher and you won’t give up easily. This will keep you going and you won’t stop at anything until you achieve it. This will ensure success.

The second guideline is to find a need and fill it. Look around and be observant. Check out what kind of product or service people or businesses around you need. This may take some effort and time to get to the answer, but it will be worth it. Sometimes when you’re looking for something, it is difficult to find it. Other times when you’re not looking but you’re just maintaining an open mind, ideas can come flowing into your mind effortlessly and spontaneously.

Once you know what you want to do, you will know where you’re heading. Between the “what” and the “where” is the “how” to get there. And this is the most important part of a successful life. It’s action time.

Try dividing a story or movie feature into three parts (what the story is about, how the story goes, and the ending of the story). The lengthiest part is how the story goes. This is where the action is. The outcome of the story is determined by the action that takes place. All three parts of the story are important. However, the middle portion is more significant than the other two.

This is the same with your purpose – to succeed in life. To achieve your goal, the action part takes the most time, effort, and material support to get to where you want to be. It is the part of your life where you are going to experience all the ups and downs, laughter and tears, joys and pains. But in the end it is worth it. Most, in fact, say if they could they would do it all over again. Why? Because it was fun, challenging and they LOVED what they were doing…

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.

Time is short, do what you LOVE to do

This may sound overly simplistic, but the secret of success is to find what you love to do — and do it! I’m not necessarily talking about doing what you do at your current job or limiting yourself to something you are already an expert in. This exercise is intended to get you to identify what truly makes you happy. It is simple logic. Someone that is happy with what they are doing will naturally generate more results than someone that isn’t. When one gets to the core of who they are they instantly set a direction in their lives that will positively change it forever.

The vast majority of people never take the time to figure out what truly makes them happy. They get up, go to work, eat dinner, go to sleep, etc. over and over again until they retire. It is astonishing at the number of people I’ve met that have taken the attitude that when they retire they will be happy and enjoy “the good life.” Sadly, the vast majority of retired people never get the chance to do what they thought they would. All too often they don’t have the money, their health has deteriorated or time has simply ran out.

I was fortunate that early in my life I knew I didn’t want to fall into this work/sleep/work/retire/die pattern. If you are reading this then it probably doesn’t fit you either. So what does all of this mean? How do you find that thing you love to do? And how can you make money doing it?

Finding that thing we love can be easy for some and quite difficult for others. I’ve found a good way to shift your paradigm is to lay in bed at night when the kids are tucked away, the spouse is asleep, the house is quiet and your head is clear. Then let your mind float off and imagine if you could do anything what would it be? Don’t think about the kids, don’t think about what you did in school, don’t think your job, don’t think about being physically handicapped, don’t think about needing money. Simply let your mind wonder until it lands on something that makes you smile. Could it be fishing? Is it a race car driver? Do you like working with wood? Do you like building things? Do you like making people laugh? Do this for as many nights as it takes until you start to come back to a common theme.

The next step in the process is to make a list of items you are good at and things you are not that you believe will help you transition your life into doing what you love to do. The idea here is to start transferring that big picture idea into an actionable list of things you can do and areas where you need to improve. You have to be realistic if you are going to be successful. If you want to be a doctor you need to be good in science. If you want to be a winning race car driver you need to know the mechanics of how a car works in addition to knowing how to drive one.

In my particular case, the essence of what makes me happy is being creative, bringing things together in innovative ways (e.g. people, technology, company’s, etc.) and building something that makes my Company, the industry, the world, etc. better than it was when I started. The help others be successful helps me be successful principal.

Of course saying I want to make the world a better place and doing it are two completely different animals. To get to this point in my career has not been easy. I have dedicated my life to being the best I can be in everything I do. I have spent countless hours learning as much as I possibly can about business, finance, technology, developing interpersonal relationships, communication, law, engineering, sales, customer service, etc. When I run into something that I don’t know I take whatever time I need to develop myself into being a subject matter expert in the area. Putting these pieces of my life together has helped me become a recognized expert in a number of multidisciplinary areas. And this expertise has helped me become successful in my career. Life long learning is like putting strong links into a chain. The more you have the more versatile it becomes.

Chicago CIO and Entrepreneur. Started @Orbitz, @AssureFlight, Team ITG, YourPrivateLine and others. I Love technology, startups and meeting interesting people.