Lessons I Learned Today 7/2/09 – Did Entrepreneurship Kill Michael Jackson and Elvis?

This is a digest and recap of highlights, quotes, and comments from articles and discussions posted on this date on the Applied Entrepreneurship, LinkedIn group site.


*A process to test a startup idea by Brian Courtney 

I’ve redone this post to pull out the workshop methodology from how I hope to use that methodology in figuring out what to do in my next startup. To summarize the workshop process, we use five steps to align business users and software developers:” 

  • Define the idea
  • Determine the business case for doing it
  • Create alignment around it
  • Define an implementation plan to execute it
  • Get executive buy-in to fund it


*Attrition – Early warning signs for a startup by Brian Courtney

The article highlights some of the challenges of trying to run a startup with 95% of the resources on one continent and the majority of the senior executive team on another. The author was responsible for US operations for an IT services startup out in India and noticed that quality was becoming a problem. The root cause seemed to point to excessive attrition rates, which had spiraled out of control.

The problems appeared to be directly related to the stress that rapid growth can bring. The team’s reaction to the stress created so much tension that it escalated to verbal abuse.

Western ideals warped judgment on ways to resolve the problems, because “in India things are different.”

“Authority and power create privilege and this sense of privilege led to the inconsistent application of policies (favoritism) which created a lot of resentment. With proper oversight and coaching most of the problems could have been avoided.”


*Service Quality Strategy via better IT by Brian Courtney

“To understand customer expectations you have to talk to your past, present and future customers. If your company can afford it, this means doing a market survey or hiring a market research team, but if you’re a startup or a small business, this may be cost prohibitive. So what can you do on your own to try to get a realistic picture of what your customers want? There are a number of online tools and sites that can help get an accurate picture so you can build a service quality strategy. Here’s what you should try to determine:”

  • How do your customers want to communicate?
  • Where do they want to communicate?
  • How do you capture what they are saying?
  • What do you do with the results?

“Depending on the kind of service you provide you’ll need to understand how your customers use technology in order to determine how to reach them. Customers range from Inactives, which do not participate in most online technologies to Creators, which are highly active, creating web content, publishing blogs and multimedia content for general consumption.”

“Once you have defined the technology profile of your customer base, you can then create a targeted communication plan.” The article offers ideas for the different profiles, as well as a multitude of links for these profiles, including:

  • Spectators
  • Joiners
  • Collectors
  • Critics
  • Creators

Armed with a technology profile for your customer base, create a communication plan that focuses on where and how to communicate and where and how to monitor your customer’s online behaviors and discussions. Define your service quality strategy so that your organization can create the service standards needed to exceed customer expectations.

The service quality strategy is really a balancing act between what you can afford to do, what you can do, what you competition is doing, and what your customers wants you to do. Determine what are the most important service attributes your customers are looking for. Gather what information you can about your competition’s service successes and failures to see if they have vulnerabilities in service delivery. Address your customer expectations and align them with your strengths and weaknesses. Look for and attack competitor vulnerabilities for service differentiation and it should fit within your organizational capabilities.

Understanding customer expectations is the first step in delivering true quality service. The next step is converting your service quality strategy to quality standards that the organization can execute.


*Multi-Millioniare Entrepreneur Strategies by Ade Shokoya

“The big difference between successful entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs who fail is that successful entrepreneurs persevere in the face of challenges and adversity. All you need is an idea, belief and commitment.”

“Attraction + Action = Success. When you have an idea, you must instantly act on it. If you don’t, someone else will get rich and famous from it. The key to your success is action!”

“You don’t always need an original idea to succeed. Sometimes all you need is to improve or repackage and reposition an existing product.”

“To become a multi-millionaire entrepreneur, you have to continuously invest in yourself and your own development.”

“One of the key success characteristics of the multi-millionaire entrepreneurs is that they always take instant action.”

“Remember – the quality of your tomorrow depends on what actions you take today…”


*Michael Jackson’s Entrepreneur Characteristics by Ade Shokoya

“Whether you’re a fan of his music or not, there’s no denying that Michael Jackson had a big influence on popular culture. And for a time, he was the best in his field. So today, let’s take a quick look at Michael Jackson’s entrepreneurial characteristics:”

  • Continuous Improvement
  • Vision
  • Innovation
  • Uniqueness
  • Value Focus

“The entrepreneur characteristic of focusing on customer needs and giving them value is essential to your business success. Because value and service are the foundation of any successful business. In fact, It is a prerequisite for any business.”

“Customers have so many options to choose from, if your service or product does not meet their expectations, they’ll go elsewhere. Most customers want to be loyal. Too many options lead to information overload and confusion.”


*5 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Michael Jackson’s Mistakes by Ade Shokoya

This article outlines “5 important lessons every entrepreneur and small business owners can learn” from some of Michael Jackson’s mistakes:

  • Watch What You Say and Do
  • Stay True To Who You Are
  • Choose Your Team Wisely
  • Manage Your Finances
  • Never Over Commit Yourself

“Many industry experts questioned if Michael Jackson was fit enough to deliver such a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding schedule. Now being suggested that the stress he was experiencing may have been a major contributor to Michael Jackson’s untimely death. The lesson to be learnt from this is not to over commit. In fact, you’ll often find that you’re much better off under committing and over delivering. Because if you over commit, that might be the death of you and your business.”


*Practice the 10/20/30 Rule for Presentations by Joey Asher

“Guy Kawasaki is a technology guru and venture capitalist who listens to a lot of presentations from entrepreneurs seeking money for startup ventures. The overwhelming majority of the presentations he hears are, as he says on his blog, ‘crap.””

He demands that all presentations at his business, Garage Technology Ventures, follow what he calls the “10/20/30 rule.” It’s a rule that should be embraced by anyone who wants to connect with audiences.

The rule states that all presentations should be limited to 10 slides, 20 minutes and have no words on the slides smaller than 30-point type. The rule “keeps you out of the weeds by forcing you to keep your message focused on key issues.”

“Limiting your message to 10 slides forces you to answer the question, “What do I really want to say?””

“When Kawasaki listens to a pitch for startup capital, he allocates an hour. Limiting the pitch to 20 minutes allows for 40 minutes of Q&A. As Kawasaki knows, all presentations improve with lots of Q&A.”

“If you follow the 10/20/30 rule, your presentations will be a breath of a fresh air.”


What I Think

I think I see a dangerous syndrome for entrepreneurs in the articles posted on this date. Brian Courtney’s article, Attrition – Early warning signs for a startup, describes efforts to fix what appeared to be a quality control problem with the division of an IT company in India. As Courtney’s articles says:

“The problems appeared to be directly related to the stress that rapid growth can bring. The team’s reaction to the stress created so much tension that it escalated to verbal abuse.”

An argument could be made that Michael Jackson’s case, at least on the surface, represents the mirror image of Courtney’s article. It appears that Jackson’s rise to fame, obviously possible only because of his huge inventory of skills, was also propelled in the early years by the well-publicized stress inflicted on him by his family situation. In Courtney’s article, the business was nearly destroyed by the effects of stress. In Jackson’s case, his rise to fame could in large part be dependent upon that same stress, only to later take a fatal toll on him.

Ade Shokoya’s article, 5 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Michael Jackson’s Mistakes, gives one view of mistakes Jackson’s career teaches entrepreneurs. One of those was over commitment. In an eerie parallel, Jackson and Elvis might have had longer careers if they had paid more attention to another of the lessons Shokoya points to, which is choosing your team wisely. This appears extremely important for entertainers, who must repeatedly perform on queue at their peak, regardless of injuries and other day-to-day stress. Seems like that could be the same syndrome many other non-entertainment industry entrepreneurs may face when they come to work every day, then cannot let go of when their employees depart at the end of an employee’s normal business day.

Joey Asher’s article, Practice the 10/20/30 Rule for Presentations, mentions that if “you follow the 10/20/30 rule, your presentations will be a breath of a fresh air.” Perhaps that is what these entertainers and other stressed out entrepreneurs are lacking. The ability to put your business a/k/a next performance in perspective, giving balance to the “fresh air” of a real personal life, may obviously escape many highly focused, intensely driven entrepreneurs.

Staying “true to who you are,” as Shokoya’s article also points out, may certainly seem nearly impossible when everyone around you wants you to be ever more than you are. The ability to morph into that “superior being” is one talent many true entrepreneurs possess, and we mere mortals may not. While some who master that one characteristic may rise to the top of their arena, if they are not the “complete entrepreneurial package,” they may just not be able to maintain their flight to what should be their ultimate reward.

Could it be that some super successful entrepreneurs possess a fatal combination of the characteristics of both father Daedalus and Icarus his son? Greek legend say Daedalus was such a skilled artisan that he was able to fashion wings so he and his son could escape captivity at the hands of the king of Crete. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, because the wax which held the wings together would melt. The great skill and craftsmanship of Daedalus allowed his son to “rise to the top,” as it were, but the hubris of Icarus led him to believe he could ignore the warnings of his father. He flew so high the sun melted his wings and he fell to his death, just as his father had warned.

Is it possible that there is a mythological parallel to the stories of Michael and Elvis? Did their skills allow them to rise so high that they began to believe themselves too powerful to need to listen to their advisors? Perhaps it is the advisors who both pushed them just beyond their limits, and neglected their duties to keep them from flying so high that they risked, and eventually lost their lives.

We may never know the truth, but it is clear that any entrepreneur must be the “complete package.” Extraordinary talent and a seemingly super human work ethic alone may not be enough. If you cannot control your hubris, you must at pick the members of your team wisely enough that they can prevent you from melting in the heat of your own success.


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If you enjoyed my impression of these articles, why don’t you read them for yourself and see what you and I missed or hit? Join the Applied Entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn. Membership is free and I try to post about ten articles a day there. We have some great discussions going and if you are an entrepreneur, we hope you will join us.

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Posted in Applied Entrepreneurship, entrepreneur, Perseverance, Personal happiness

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