Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Starting to Finish

Past IDDS'er Joe Agoada has been on the road in Africa, bringing the World Cup to school children in remote areas. The tour will end with the World Cup finals. Joe's recent update on Kampala 2 Capetown got me to thinking.

Often, we think of a start-up as a "built to last" organization- one that should endure and persist. But initiatives like Joe's are also instructive. Start ups can be events and tours (a series of events). They still have business models, just ones with a set finish line. The metaphors come from movies, sports, and "special forces" in the military. Perhaps more start ups should start this way- without the assumption of permanence. Ceasing to exist is often what happens to a start up, but it isn't something that is usually planned or discussed openly. A venture's planned obsolescence is rarely a section in a business plan.

Their are many implications for founders and funders. Less time spent planning and more time doing. The goal of finishing, not continuing. At the end, people are paid off and move on to the next venture. Instead of staying together and hoping that lightning will strike twice for the same team.

This doesn't mean that the venture can't shape shift and become more permanent. Successful events become fixtures- whether Burning Man, the World Cup or the Rolling Stones. But this could be an approach that is based on evolution instead of planning. Design focused on the organization, not the strategy. And it would be paradoxical if the behavior of "starting to finish" leads to behavior that is more likely to lead to survival: faster, leaner, more responsive start ups.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

With all thy getting, get references...

School, jobs, relationships, journeys... through life one accumulates many experiences. Surprisingly, however, few people pay much attention to externally validating these key experiences. Sure, you take a photo from that remote mountain peak or your visit to the Taj Mahal... but how can you let others know what you have done when you can't just take a picture? For many experiences, people don't take the picture when they are on the peak... they wait a while, and then try to recreate the moment by putting it on their resume. "See this picture from a magazine? I climbed this mountain." Wow.

Your resume should present your accomplishments. But how did you do it? For that, people (such as employers or investors) may want to find external perspectives. Say your resume claims you ran a successful product launch at your last company... have you won awards? If so, put them on the resume. If not, and you think this is important, you need a reference. Who can say: "Yup, she climbed it in tough conditions, had a great attitude, I'd love to climb with her again"?
The world works on references. Not just employment references... but the many discussions that go on about you. What do people say? What would you like them to say? What have you done to increase the chances of a good reference as you go through your life's journey? Who are the best people to validate what you have done? (perhaps you should make a list right now)
Most companies won't provide meaningful references now. The HR department will confirm dates of employment. What if it happened 5 years ago? Or if the company you worked for has gone out of business (do you imagine anyone at BP is looking for a job right now)? Have you kept up with co-workers? Former bosses? Perhaps you saved a copy of your 2005 performance review.
I send people the following memo when they ask for a formal reference. A number of them have said it was helpful. Disturbingly, a number have also said "no body ever told me how to do this."
To: People requesting references
From: Paul Hudnut

Asking for a reference is an art…you only want good references. So before approaching me (or other professors, bosses, co-workers, etc.) think about whether you think they can give you a good reference. Your goal should be to have each reference validate a piece of the picture that you have painted about your qualifications: education, work, character, accomplishments. Then think about what you want each of them to say about you…do they have a basis to be able to say that?
Overall, I am happy to give references if they are requested ahead of time and I am given background materials necessary to write or provide the reference. Last minute requests for written recommendations will be declined, and I will not provide a phone reference or a written reference if I am not provided the minimum requirements below.
1) Keep in mind that if you know what you want, it is easier to ask for it! Your target should be to tell me what you want, and then make sure you give me what I need to help you get what you want. Employers are trying to understand your competence and your character. You will strengthen your references by focusing on, and providing examples of, activities and experiences that demonstrate both.
2) When you request a reference it is helpful to ask for a detailed reference and to provide background information. For instance, telling me: "I am applying for a job with golf resort development and management companies as a marketing manager” is OK, but adding “Would you be willing to give me a good reference with respect to my performance in your class, my interest in the golf industry, my honesty on the course, and my habit of always buying a hamburger for my professor at the end of the round" is much better.
For most of my students, though, I can only write about the first item. I can't write about the others unless we have actually had a chance to sit down and talk about your interest in the golf industry, we have played golf (and you didn't take a Mulligan) and you bought me a hamburger. Golf is only an example, folks- it could be your interest in fashion design, green building, biotechnology, etc. In all, though, for me to comment on it, you need to have given me the material. LinkedIn and Facebook can be helpful ways to informally keep me up to date on your activities.
3) As a reference writer, I like to get help from YOU. It makes it much easier for me to write a reference if you tell me what you are trying to accomplish. At a minimum, include your resume with your request. Even better, attach a "draft" recommendation letter or outline covering the points you want me to cover. If it is a specific job, include the job posting.
4) If you don’t need a letter, but just want me to be available by phone, then please provide a resume, and an outline of the main points you would like me to cover in the call. Then let me know by email or voicemail when I should be expecting a call.
Good luck. I look forward to helping you find, or create, your next opportunity!

Saturday, June 05, 2010


A friend asked if I planned to make it to the LOHAS conference in Boulder this month. LOHAS is short hand for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a key market segment for consumer brands. I checked the website, and learned that this is an opportunity to "successfully approach the LOHAS consumers with your products and services. Network with like-minded executives from all LOHAS market sectors."

But this email got me thinking about two other things going on in Colorado this summer. The International Development Design Summit (aka IDDS) and the Unreasonable Institute. These have a very different focus than LOHAS. You see, these are aimed at successfully developing ventures that serve the poor. They are largely social ventures, aimed at maximizing impact on a challenge faced by the those in what I call the LOPAS segment. Lifestyles of Poverty and Sickness.

Most companies are looking at the LOHAS market as early adopters for greener brands, organic foods, renewable energy. The purchasing power of this segment is estimated at close to $300 billion. They are seen as drivers of a more sustainable economy.

Few companies are looking at the LOPAS market. This is too bad. China is a leading example of how a market can explode as hundreds of millions of people begin to move out of poverty. The media has recently started to talk about "reverse innovation" where products developed for India or Africa begin to show up in the US and Europe. So just how big a market is created for every 100 million people who move from making $1 per day to $4?

It's just math. The LOPAS market is bigger, growing faster and is less competitive than LOHAS. I didn't say it was easy. And it definitely takes a different approach. But it is worth doing something about if your company cares about sustainability. It makes little systemic sense to sell solar panels to LOHAS in Boulder, while LOPAS in Accra burn kerosene or charcoal. What company can serve both markets? What synergies might exist?

As you think where sustainable growth will come from, it would be wise to follow both the LOHAS and the LOPAS. And if you are in Colorado, you have a chance to find out about both this month. Perhaps you will figure out how to turn some LOPAS into LOHAS. That seems like a good challenge for marketers.

Friday, June 04, 2010

GSSE Program Update

Next Billion is doing a series on educational programs and resources for students interested in market based approaches to development. They were kind enough to ask me to provide some information about our program at Colorado State. Here is a link to that post.