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Monday, 01 July 2013 03:00
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Inc.'s Editor in Chief Eric Schurenberg reveals why the longtime series is always compelling and dramatic read.

I had coffee on a recent morning with an entrepreneur, as I often do. What struck me about this founder, an enthusiastic Ohioan named Austin Allison, was how unremarkable his remarkable story was. He is CEO of dotloop, a maker of cloud-based software that streamlines the maddeningly slow dance of documentation that accompanies any home sale.

Agents, real estate brokerages, and homeowners seem to find real value in dotloop's service: According to Allison, in four years the payroll has gone from two to 120, the footprint from five cities to 700, and revenue from zero to $15 million. Along the way, Allison went through a year without salary, maxed out his home equity line of credit, nearly bottomed out on cash, and gambled what little money he could scrounge on a booth at a real estate conference.

By any standard--economic, business, or human--it's a remarkable, dramatic story. But here's the thing: It's not that unusual. Facing the odds and swallowing risks to create jobs and wealth out of nothing are what entrepreneurs do. It happens all the time.

The "How We Did It" cover story in this issue is our annual attempt to pay tribute to the endlessly remarkable and mostly untold stories of entrepreneurs unfolding all around us every day. You'll find some practical tips here, but, speaking for myself, the main takeaway is inspiration--and a little awe.

It's hard to feel otherwise when you read about David Tran, who arrived here from his native Vietnam without any money or English and one month later launched what would become the wildly popular Huy Fong Foods brand of sriracha sauce. Or when you read Bert Jacobs's story of how his Life Is Good team rallied to support an employee (and other victims) who had been wounded in the Boston Marathon bombings.And then there's a whole different kind of inspiration to be gained from the story of our cover subjects, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram, whose $1 billion sale to Facebook just 18 months after launch set a new high-water mark for the rewards of entrepreneurship.

We've been around long enough at Inc., however, to know that small business is not all upside, to put it mildly. Feature subject Mark Suster has been on a crusade against hype in the start-up scene; Jessica Bruder's story captures a (typically vulgar) piece of his mind. And you'll find features by Christine Lagorio on Uber and Burt Helm on CrossFit, respectively, two controversial businesses that illustrate how much entrepreneurs sometimes have to challenge the rules to make their vision stick.

Over coffee, Allison told me he wants dotloop to be a 100-year company. Statistically, founders are lucky to make it to five. And human nature suggests that if Century 21 or Keller Williams were to show up with a sufficiently generous offer, Allison's horizon might get much shorter. Still, we at Inc. have always preferred the builders to the flippers. They have better stories, and it's our job--and privilege--to tell them.

Monday, 01 July 2013 00:06
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Did you create your budget in gloomier days? Be aware there's new reason for optimism -- and for making mid-year tweaks to your budget.

A few phantom green shoots a couple of years back aside, it’s been a long time since entrepreneurs had much in the way of positive economic news to celebrate. But while it’s still not exactly boom times, author and business expert Ram Charan may have finally located a reason to feel cheery.

What is it? Turns out many businesses’ budgets for this year are too pessimistic, he writes on the HBR Blog Network.

"There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the economic outlook for the next five years. The shifting energy equation, for example, sets the stage for growth. Shale gas will allow the US to be energy independent, create an export industry, and reduce energy costs. Lower costs are already making some industrial sectors more competitive," he argues, noting with near heroic levels of positive thinking that "even gridlock in Washington has not stopped the economy from progressing."

Which isn’t to say everything is 100 percent hunky dorey. Europe outside of Germany is still obviously a mess and certain industries (sorry Australian commodity producers) aren’t sharing in the cheer. But unless you’re a copper exporter located Down Under, Charan encourages you to let yourself crack a smile and take a fresh look at your 2013 projections in a more optimistic mood.

"If your budget was created for economic headwinds, then now is the time to revisit your assumptions," he writes. So what might you change in your budget halfway through the year if things are looking up? The post lays out eight possibilities to consider, including:

Reset your goals and KPIs. You may have to make some upward revisions as the economic picture changes. Lack of ambition allows mediocre performance.

Set funds aside for growth. Even as you loosen the purse strings, keep some money on hand to invest in marketing or advertising as the market turns. You don't have to spend it ahead of time but be ready to pounce and outspend competitors segment by segment as consumption rebounds.

Rethink outsourcing. Market growth has shifted to the US, and change happens faster than ever requiring smooth coordination. It may be wise now to source domestically or to bring some functions back in-house. Being close to the market, you'll be able to move faster and also protect your intellectual property.

If you’re convinced that Charan isn’t premature in his slightly sunnier projections then check out the post for the rest of his points to reconsider.

Are you more optimistic about the business climate than you were in 2012?

Sunday, 30 June 2013 18:00
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You know bored employees often quit, so why aren't your pausing every once in awhile to assess your top performers' boredom levels?

Sometimes your best employee leaves because he wants to move somewhere sunny or because his wife got a new gig on the other side of the country. Sometimes that uber productive engineer can’t resist the lure of her own startup or your communications ace has decided he wants to be a yoga instructor instead.

When it comes to reasons like these, there’s very little you can do to keep the team you’ve sweated to put together intact. But most employees don’t leave for reasons like these. Many employees leave simply because they’re bored.

And if you let them, know you could probably have prevented their aggravating departure with just a little bit of attention and care, writes Silicon Valley engineering manager and author Michael Lopp on his blog.

In the excellent post, Lopp points out the simple but powerful truth that "boredom shows up quietly and appears to pose no immediate threat. This makes it both easy to address and easy to ignore" before going on to offer a simple three-pronged approach to early detection of employee boredom:

Any noticeable change in daily routine. A decrease in productivity is a great early sign that something’s up, but what you are looking for is any change in their routine. Increased snark? Unexpected vacations? Later arrivals? Earlier departures? Anything that strikes you as out of the ordinary for someone whose day you are familiar with is worth considering. The root cause of this change may have nothing to do with boredom, and the best way is figure that out is…

You ask, "Are you bored?" Even if you don’t have a gut feeling, it’s a good question to randomly ask your team. When I ask, I look you straight in the eyes and if you can’t stare me in the face and answer, I’m going to keep digging until you look me in the eye. Remember, the goal here is to discover boredom before they know it, and the act of a simple question might be just the mental impetus they need to see the early signs in themselves.

They tell you. And you listen. The reality is that someone is going to tell you they’re bored quietly and when you least expect it. They’ll tell you halfway through your 1:1 and they won’t use the word bored. They’ll say something innocuous like, “…and I really don’t know what to do next,” and you’re going to blow right by the most important thing they’ve said in a while because you’re worried about your next meeting.

While these techniques might not sound like earth-shattering innovations, as Lopp points out at the end of the third point, just because something is simple and effective, doesn’t mean you’re not too distracted to actually do it. So what if you pause long enough to ponder whether your team is bored and listen to what they’re actually saying about their level of engagement and come to the uncomfortable conclusion that these days they’re not exactly finding their work scintillating?

Lopp’s post has suggestions. A half dozen solid ones, in fact. They range from letting bored employees experiment to aggressively removing the noise from their workday and simply "telling them what the hell is going on." Check out the post for details.

Are you "too busy" to stop and notice your top performers’ boredom level?

Sunday, 30 June 2013 18:00
Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail
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You know bored employees often quit, so why aren't your pausing every once in awhile to assess your top performers' boredom levels?

Sometimes your best employee leaves because he wants to move somewhere sunny or because his wife got a new gig on the other side of the country. Sometimes that uber productive engineer can’t resist the lure of her own startup or your communications ace has decided he wants to be a yoga instructor instead.

When it comes to reasons like these, there’s very little you can do to keep the team you’ve sweated to put together intact. But most employees don’t leave for reasons like these. Many employees leave simply because they’re bored.

And if you let them, know you could probably have prevented their aggravating departure with just a little bit of attention and care, writes Silicon Valley engineering manager and author Michael Lopp on his blog.

In the excellent post, Lopp points out the simple but powerful truth that "boredom shows up quietly and appears to pose no immediate threat. This makes it both easy to address and easy to ignore" before going on to offer a simple three-pronged approach to early detection of employee boredom:

Any noticeable change in daily routine. A decrease in productivity is a great early sign that something’s up, but what you are looking for is any change in their routine. Increased snark? Unexpected vacations? Later arrivals? Earlier departures? Anything that strikes you as out of the ordinary for someone whose day you are familiar with is worth considering. The root cause of this change may have nothing to do with boredom, and the best way is figure that out is…

You ask, "Are you bored?" Even if you don’t have a gut feeling, it’s a good question to randomly ask your team. When I ask, I look you straight in the eyes and if you can’t stare me in the face and answer, I’m going to keep digging until you look me in the eye. Remember, the goal here is to discover boredom before they know it, and the act of a simple question might be just the mental impetus they need to see the early signs in themselves.

They tell you. And you listen. The reality is that someone is going to tell you they’re bored quietly and when you least expect it. They’ll tell you halfway through your 1:1 and they won’t use the word bored. They’ll say something innocuous like, “…and I really don’t know what to do next,” and you’re going to blow right by the most important thing they’ve said in a while because you’re worried about your next meeting.

While these techniques might not sound like earth-shattering innovations, as Lopp points out at the end of the third point, just because something is simple and effective, doesn’t mean you’re not too distracted to actually do it. So what if you pause long enough to ponder whether your team is bored and listen to what they’re actually saying about their level of engagement and come to the uncomfortable conclusion that these days they’re not exactly finding their work scintillating?

Lopp’s post has suggestions. A half dozen solid ones, in fact. They range from letting bored employees experiment to aggressively removing the noise from their workday and simply "telling them what the hell is going on." Check out the post for details.

Are you "too busy" to stop and notice your top performers’ boredom level?

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