Tag Archives: glen hellman

Starting Up Your Startup

By Glen Hellman, Dingman Center board member and angel investor from his blog Forward Thinking

Creating a startup is often compared to building an airplane in real-time while in flight. It isn’t easy. There are so many things that can go wrong; so many different ways to make it work or sink that ship.

In my experience, there are 3 critical attributes common in great companies that will not only improve the odds of making a safe landing, but make it more enjoyable and profitable. The first two involve developing a strong foundation and the third involves setting a destination.

1. Value Axis
Pick your value axis. According to Michael Treacy and Fred Wiesema in their book The Discipline of Market Leaders, companies compete on 3 axes.  Think about the following three companies that basically sell the same product yet they all compete and deliver that product on a different axis. The axes are:

  • Operational Excellence – You can buy sneakers at Wal-Mart, and they compete for your business based on a well-oiled logistical system that insures they have the right product at the right price in the right place at the right time. Customers know they will find the products they want at a good price and expect few surprises during the shopping experience.
  • Product Leadership – Hanging your hat on innovation. You can buy those same sneakers at Amazon.com, not leave your home, and have them delivered. Amazon, started as a book seller, branched out to virtually competing against almost all brick-and-mortar operations and has evolved into a premiere technology innovator where retail is only a small part of their overall product offering.
  • Customer Intimacy – Knowing and taking care of your customer like no one else. When you buy your sneakers at Nordstrom, you know that the sales person will take good care of you and even if you bring the product back a year later without a receipt they will accept the return.

Companies need to compete adequately in all three axes yet you can’t be best in all three. You’ve got to pick the axis in which you will hang your hat.

2. Core Values
What are the 3 or 5? Hire people who personify them. Review and reward people who adhere to them. It’s easier to create a culture from the start so think about those core values and be intentional about creating a culture around them (See: 5 Signs Your Core Values Are Rotten to the Core).

Some Core Values to Think About:

  • Teamwork
  • Respect
  • Persistence
  • Customer Centric
  • Integrity
  • Results
  • Fun
  • Innovative
  • Work Hard/Play Hard
  • What Ever It Takes
  • Creative
  • Loyalty
  • Decisive
  • Independent
  • Community

3. Pick a Destination
Now that you know who you are and what you stand for, it’s time to pick what you want to be when you grow up? Are you building for a quick flip? Do you want to sell, go IPO, create something that is disruptive, change the world, have an impact?  What’s your time frame? What’s your number? What’s your target?

It’s important to have a target to judge your progress, create goals, and drive the organization (more on this in Three If’s From a Maybe: Just-In-Time Strategic Planning).

Summary
Your destination, the understanding of the target combined with your value axis and core values creates an environment for your team to work independently, be creative, for your company to be nimble and excel.

Spending more time on foundation and target will free up your time from developing rules, procedures, and micro management.

Do you have a clear vision of these 3 operating imperatives? What are you waiting for? Go do it. Get them done.

Glen Hellman helps exceptional entrepreneurs figure out what to do and gets them to do it. He’s an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and has worked for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He’s a principal at Driven Forward, board member at The University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, a Vistage coach and a mentor at the Founder Institute which is a good excuse but not the reason he is such a horrible hockey player.

Connect with Glen on Twitter on LinkedIn

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Center Stage with Glen Hellman ’78, Principal at Driven Forward

Glen Hellman is an active member of the Dingman Center Angels investor network and an expert on startups. Mr. Hellman is frequently quoted on corporate governance and entrepreneurship issues in print and broadcast media. In print he’s been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Week, The Washington Post and USA Today. He has been featured on radio programs including NPR Marketplace and Voice of America. Television appearances include NBC and FOX news.

Keep reading for Center Stage with Glen Hellman.

What are you working on right now?
Right now I work with experienced CEOs to improve their businesses. Essentially, I’m a coach and I help them learn from their experiences. We work together in groups, we hold each other accountable, and we try to avoid big mistakes. In addition, I’m an Angel Investor and an advocate for DC regional entrepreneurship, primarily focused on working with startups and small businesses that have a desire for growth.

As someone who provides guidance to entrepreneurs, what are the biggest mistakes they make?
The primary thing that causes a company to go bad is a lack of focus or casual, frequent changes in focus. One of the most common ways entrepreneurs do this is by chasing nonstrategic cash. Being too opportunistic by chasing a deal out of one’s chosen niche distracts from the mission and for a small company to be effective, they need to make a lot of noise in a very small time. You do that by sticking to your chosen niche.
Once you start chasing cash that doesn’t help your core business, then there’s an opportunity cost. And if you have to chase cash outside of your strategic goals, then you need to change your strategic goals because you either don’t have the wherewithal to execute or your strategy is flawed.

What do you think of the DC startup scene right now?
It’s as hot as it’s ever been in terms of numbers. There’s a hot, very healthy startup scene particularly in technology and software. It’s because there is strong momentum in companies that already exist, such as Living Social. There’s also the government scene which brings tech expertise. We’ve got a well-educated workforce and a tech-savvy population. The whole downtown scene for young entrepreneurs is a nice environment for people who want to start a business. DC has the quirky, hipster, SoHo feel. It’s happening in NYC and it’s happening here.

You maintain a blog, http://blog.drivenforward.com/wordpress/. How important are social media outlets for today’s entrepreneurs?
Social media has shifted the power from the marketers and providers of product and service to the consumer. Advertising and marketing are less effective than they were 10 years ago.  Reputation is no longer managed by press releases, its managed by being a good corporate actor, delivering good product.

Companies must engage in social media. They must monitor social media to understand what’s happening in their field. Social media is the new source for market research on the market, competitors and the market perception of a company’s products. Companies must monitor conversations, engage in the conversations honestly and transparently and fix product flaws based on feedback.  You must build a better product, you can no longer PR your way out of having a crappy solution.

How did you get involved with the Dingman Center and why is it a special place?
For me, the Dingman Center is one of the few places that’s not set up around making somebody rich and famous. It’s about doing good work for the entrepreneurial community. It’s truly the unselfish pursuit of promoting entrepreneurship.
When I decided I wanted to get out of corporate turnarounds, I decided I wanted to create employment and because of that I was naturally attracted to the Dingman Center. I got very active in the Dingman Angels and we have developed a healthy community that funds startups in DC. I think we’re the most active angel group in the city and we do as many deals in DC as the most active venture capital firms.

Glen is a Principal at Driven Forward LLC, a firm that supports entrepreneurs and venture investors by providing strategic guidance, interim executive leadership services, and executive coaching.  In addition he is a Chair for Vistage International where he serves as a professional facilitator for CEO advisory boards. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Driven Forward and on the Board of Advisors for the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. He is an active member of the Dingman Center Angels investor network where he is responsible for deal flow, deal selection and coaching corporate executives seeking capital and in his spare time he writes for Tech Cocktail. Mr. Hellman has experience running operations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Connect with Glen:   @glehel   http://blog.drivenforward.com/wordpress/

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