Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Knowing Your Sales Funnel...Maybe

Mischief Night, or Cabbage Night, or Goosy Night, or Beggars' Night, and then Halloween are coming. They'll be the first two weeknights *off* this month, in terms of start-up stuff.  But not other stuff.  Before I put my head on the pillow, here are a couple random thoughts to bounce around:

** What Serge said.  Before I started b-school, I called a friend from undergrad (yes, Serge is his real name) to ping him for his thoughts.  He said not to join too many clubs, and that possibly the most risk-free time you'll ever have to start a business is during business school.  Here's why that was great -- I bit off way more than I could chew this semester.  There are one or two things I would've done differently had I known, but hey, I didn't.  Some assignments have been sub-par.  Some grades will suffer.  It won't matter.  School isn't *really* the real world, in that sense.  If I wasn't schlepping around from Bellingham to Boston to Beverly (that's the last 24 hours, and the alliteration was unplanned, I swear), I might've been able to study for my Airline Industry midterm tomorrow.  It's a shade past midnight, and I won't study, and won't beat the mean.  But I will pass, because I absorbed enough from class and from the problem sets to make that happen.  That's all that matters.  Post-June, it's the real world again...but now, it's really just not.  The difference between a B and a A, or even a C and a B, on a piece of paper that no one may ever see, just isn't all that real.

** Sales latency.  This is something that continues to surprise/amaze me.  If you asked me to explain my sales funnel to you, I wouldn't be able to.  I wouldn't look at you funny, though -- I would just say, "I don't know that because I don't have enough information."  Sometimes an e-mail that got sent in June gets responded to in late-October, because the right person saw the right person who ran into the person who was the decision-maker.  That took time.  It's really hard to know the ROI of something you do on day [X]. As the old marketing joke goes, "I make all my sales from half my ad budget...I just don't know which half." The idealist in me wants to think if you're doing something, and you're doing it well, you start to make your own luck with increasing frequency.  

** It's Not What You Know, It's What You Can Learn.  I loved the section of Chris Matthews' book "Hardball" where he talks about "It's Not Who You Know...It's Who You Get to Know."  He was purposely twisting the old saying about who you know and what you know by saying that YES, it is "who" you know, but that you have the power to change that to work in your favor by meeting more people. Knowledge works the same way -- to put it into a formula, you could say that curious person + time = a knowledgeable person.  Anyway, when I saw Steve Kaufer speak to our Sandbox Accelerator class, he flat-out told us that when he started TripAdvisor, he didn't know the first thing about the travel industry.  But he wasn't too worried about that, because he knew he could learn...and he did.  Today, the guy probably knows more than just about anyone on the planet about that subject.  I didn't start off with any particular background or credential in my field, but when enough minutes turn into enough hours and then enough days, following enough books, enough YouTube videos, and enough journal articles...the types of conversations I can sustain start to change...which is a nice reward to see.

** "Free" is a cruel, cruel mistress.  Anyone who thinks they know precisely whether ANY business should EVER do anything free is about as wrong as anyone who thinks they have a good solution for US policy towards Iran.  There is no easy answer to this.  For every app that failed to monetize its freemium concept, there's a counterexample.  Shoot, PayPal actually PAID its early adopters tidy sums of money just to use the service.  Free is complicated.  Free can serve a purpose.  A business just has to know when to tap the brakes, and then when to slam them.  Too much free is a hobby, and not a business.  Free, if done right, has the power to launch.  

I may be head-bobbing tomorrow morning during the case about the Basel III capital requirements for banks, and then during the Health Care discussion about linear optimization models for patient throughput, and then the midterm, and then BAUFS (Business Analysis Using Financial Statements...great acronym, eh?)...and it may not matter.  I can sleep on the train.  Tomorrow night can be time for some family, some baseball, and some rest (and if you think I sound like a fairweather baseball fan, you're damn right I am! There's no way I could sit through any game not being played in October unless I was physically there at the park watching).  

And on that note, good night, and thanks as always for reading.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Elephant's Tail

The XO of my first command in the Navy (peace be upon him) used to use a bunch of funny colloquialisms, which amused me to the point that I began keeping a running list in my standard-issue green notebook.  At times, this list created needed amusement for the wardroom.

One of the things he used to say was this: "When you eat the elephant in bite-sized pieces, you eventually get to the tail."

It's good advice.  Between now and mid-December, it's serving me well.

I'm not sure if I've ever been this busy for such a sustained period, at least in a civilian context.  As Cliff recently reminded me in a comment, too busy is better than not busy enough, so I realize it's not all bad. And I also realize that it's a situation completely of my own making, so this isn't so much a complaint as it is a statement about reality.

There are stacks of papers to grade (yes, the picture here is an au naturale candid of my kitchen table). There are assignments and cases to complete.  There are inboxes to (try to) clear.  And there are 5 MAG seminars every week.

One of the best time management tactics I've heard of is the pomodoro technique.  It's named for the Italian word for tomato, apparently because an Italian guy came up with this using a timer that looked like a tomato. What it basically boils down to is this:  You set a timer for exactly 25 minutes.  During those 25 minutes, you just focus on one single thing.  When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break to clear your mind, walk around the house, or write a blog entry...or whatever else.  Then, back to the timer.

Eventually, what happens is that as a few of these time blocks start to whiz by, your plate looks a little bit less full.  Slowly but surely, you slog through until you realize, "Wow...that case I had to write up is done, and I understand why the MinuteClinic is a disruptive innovation" and "Wow, that thing I'm doing in Beverly next week is almost ready now...and I actually understand what Len Kleinrock was saying about packet switching."

The beauty of the pomodoro system is that it prevents you from falling prey to analysis paralysis.  Basically, the stress of being overwhelmed with a monumental task list leads to a temptation to want to buckle.  It's the absolute worst thing you could do, when you think about it rationally, but it's something everyone who has ever faced sustained periods of stress (and c'mon, that's all of us) understands:  Unless you have a way to really get yourself rolling, you could wind up actually doing nothing.

And on that note, it's time for 25 straight minutes of grading.  And after that, it's off to Lynnfield and then Templeton for work.

December come she will.

In the meantime, it's pomodoro time for this Captain.