June 22, 2010

19 Years and counting, and 13 lessons learned

Nineteen years ago yesterday, June 21, 1991, I received notice from the State of Colorado that Gold Systems was officially incorporated as a business.  I believe I also gave two weeks notice to AT&T on that day and officially started my entrepreneurship journey.

I've learned so many lessons along the way.  Some lessons are still being repeated, but years ago I wrote down some of the ones that had really stuck with me.  To commemorate the day I'm going to repeat a blog post that I did back in 2004.  Here's the original link, which amazingly still works.  I called it Thirteen Lessons Learned in 2004, but the list goes back to the very early days of Gold Systems.  At that time there were only twelve lessons, but the most important lesson was only added after we survived the dot.com crash.

Thank you sincerely to EVERYONE who's been a part of Gold Systems.  For everyone who's ever worked here, or been a customer or a partner or an investor - thank you!

Thirteen Lessons Learned

1. Get all of the business we can . . .

Too many times we thought we were going to get a big contract and slacked off on our sales efforts. Then we had to scramble when the contract didn't come through.

2. Don't assume anyone else is working in our best interest.

People have their own problems and sometimes wishful thinking made us believe that people were going to do more to help us than was realistic.

3. Always confirm sending a fax and appointments.

Faxes have a way of getting sent to the wrong number, lost, mis-filed or directed to the wrong person. We confirm every fax that goes out of our office. Confirming appointments can prevent you from driving across town and then finding out the person you are meeting is no longer available. It also reminds the person you are meeting about the time and gives them a chance to be better prepared.  I don't remember the last time I sent a fax, but I do remember the last time I sent an email and then wondered why it wasn't answered, only to find out it didn't go through.  The point is to confirm the important stuff.

4. Every phone call could be from a customer.

Always answer the phone assuming that a customer could be calling. Some people like to call at odd hours and leave voice mail. It is impressive when they catch you working late and you answer professionally.

5. You get what you want by helping enough other people get what they want.

I believe business is all about providing service to other people. I believe that Zig Ziglar might have said this originally.

6. Get your name in front of people.

Reputation and name recognition are two very valuable assets of a company.

7. Be honest.

Always. No exceptions in my book. Besides being right, it makes good business sense. People who lie eventually get caught and aren't trusted. If a person will lie about a little thing they will lie about a big thing.

8. Call the person who writes the check to make sure that we are going to be paid on time.

Don't wait until an account is past due to find out they never received the invoice. It is easy for an invoice to get lost. Make it easy to get paid.

9. It's not a "Done Deal" until Jim gets his sucker.

Jim Fudge is my friend and partner. He also used to take every check to the bank and he would celebrate by bringing back suckers. Until the check is in the bank a deal can go down the tubes. Don't relax until you get paid.

10. Always write down all commitments.

Make to-do lists and use a good contact management system. Customers hate when things "fall through the cracks". When they do (and they will) don't make excuses. I hate being told by someone that "they got busy". What, with their good customers? Own up to the mistake and try harder not to miss commitments.

11. Spell check everything.

I'm a terrible speller, but there is no excuse for sending out a document that has spelling errors. (Now watch, one will slip through in this list!)

12. Always get a copy of anything we sign.

It's pretty common to be told "Sign this and we'll send you a copy". Ask for a copy when you sign it. Sometimes they forget to send it and then you have nothing if you ever have to refer to the contract or try to enforce it.

This list of lessons was developed by Terry Gold and James Fudge during the startup and growth of Gold Systems, Inc., a custom telecommunications software firm in Boulder, Colorado. Feel free to use this list in your own business and to make copies if you keep this notice intact. Someday when life slows down I might like to use this list as a basis for a book.


I can’t believe it took me this long to add this lesson.  You can survive anything as a business as long as you don’t run out of cash.  Don’t do it.  Don’t get close.  If you are heading in that direction, create a massive sense of urgency to change what you are doing.  Note to VC backed entrepreneurs:  Big bank balances turn in to small bank balances surprisingly fast. 


June 22, 2010 in Entrepreneur Essays | Permalink | TrackBack

July 01, 2009

Planning in the Face of Uncertainty

I think I met Jana Matthews about ten years ago when she invited me to speak on a panel about entrepreneurship.  Not only did she become a great friend, but because of that day, I met another great friend.  I can count on one hand the number of days where I met two life-long friends in one day, and I'm very grateful for it.

Jana consults with CEOs and management teams on how to grow their companies.  Actually I think that the companies are often already growing, but they are either out of control or not a nice place to work.  Jana knows how to combine good business management with culture and values, and I know many entrepreneurs and their employees have benefited from Jana and her team's good work.

I subscribe to an email newsletter that Jana sends out occasionally, and I also get to watch her webcasts sometimes.  You can sign up too right here, and you can see a nice library of ideas and support for entrepreneurs at her websiteby clicking on the Library tab.

Here's a sample from the latest JanaMail - it's a good reminder of what we need to be doing as entrepreneurs and leaders:

As we continue to fight through challenging times, I'm sharing some of my ideas for succeeding in the current economic environment. One of the best ways to stay strong is by making your strategic plan flexible and responsive to changing market conditions.

Planning is essential in any situation for a growing company, but it's especially true during these times of uncertainty. When the future is hard to forecast, you should continue to set growth-minded long-term goals and strategies, but you should develop your detailed, tactical plans to support those goals two quarters at a time.

Focus Hard On Today, and Stay Flexible For Tomorrow
For example, if you were starting today, think through where you'd like to be at the end of the next 12 months, then plan Q3 2009 in great detail and Q4 with somewhat less detail. The important thing is to commit to a ongoing monitoring, tracking, and adjusting of the plan. This commitment is true even in good times, but it helps you stay responsive in bad times.

A Plan... and a Process
You aren't simply creating a plan, you are building a planning process. Conduct weekly tactical meetings to monitor results and identify exceptions early. Hold monthly strategy sessions to ensure your goals are on track with the marketplace. And once a quarter, insist on a rigorous progress review on the current plan. At this meeting, you would also adjust and firm up the Q4 plan - and begin planning Q1 2010.

Communicate and Motivate
Remember, as a leader, one of your greatest charges is to communicate with your employees - and the plan is a big part of your message. Employees will stay motivated when they hear that "This week we closed the highest number of leads in the history of the company," but they will also respond and rally when you say "We are falling short of our target for the quarter, but if everyone can bring in two more leads per week, we'll get back on track."

As Dick Schultz, founder of Best Buy once told me, "The big difference between the pros and the amateurs is that the pros keep score."

Check out Jana's website here

July 1, 2009 in Entrepreneur Essays | Permalink | TrackBack

March 06, 2009

Mind Control

If you listen to the network news (I don’t recommend it) you will hear that the economy has ground to a halt.  You will also hear about how all of the auto makers have seen their sales cut in half.  But did you hear about the automaker that saw sales increase 14% in January over the same period a year ago?

While the auto market had their worst January since 1963, Hyundai actually increased sales.  I heard the CEO of Hyundai on the radio a few weeks ago and mentioned it to TC North.  TC’s written about “taking the fear out of buying” in his Weekly Encouragement email

TC (aka Dr. North) has a long bio, including sports psychology research and consulting with Olympic and professional sports teams.  Somewhere a long the line, he realized that CEOs and sales people are like athletes in that a big part of the game is mental. 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years talking with TC about entrepreneurship.  When Jim and I started Gold Systems, I was completely unprepared for how the business would affect my attitude, and how my attitude would affect the business.  Thankfully, Jim and I were rarely in-phase – when he was down, I was often up, and when I was down, he would pull me up.

Over the years I’ve learned how to control my attitude most of the time and now I’m more of an optimist than ever.  One thing TC taught me was to catch any negative thoughts quickly and to replace them with positive thoughts.  I know, it sounds like pop psychology gobbledygook, but it works most of the time.  Here’s how it works:

My brain catches sight of a TV news program announcing how bad the economy sucks.  I’m hardly conscious of it, but almost instantly a part of my brain plays the tape of “Look, there’s proof that bad things are happening!  All is lost!”  The conscious part of my brain, which is now on the lookout for this sort of negative thought, grabs control and says, “Not so fast, we’ve seen bad things before and survived just fine.  Things are not as bad as the talking heads on TV want to make them sound.  They are just trying to sell advertisements and suck us into watching more.  Be thankful for all that is going well, and show more compassion to the people who really do have it bad and stop worrying about your own problems.  Oh, and one more thing – good job at catching that negative thought and throwing it out so quickly!”

Now tie this back to the athlete.  When a pro basketball player misses a shot, do you think they run down the court saying to themselves, “I’m a terrible basketball player, and I’m probably going to miss the next shot too and look like an idiot on national TV, and then I’m going to lose my contract and my big fancy house and extravagant lifestyle.”  I don’t know any professional basketball players myself, but I’m guessing that’s not the tape they play.  The good ones shake it off and start telling themselves how they are going to hit the next shot and they keep their mind in the game.

I don’t believe that a good attitude is all that is needed to be a successful entrepreneur or a professional athlete.  Hard work, ability and luck are necessary ingredients.  But to quote TC again, you only have control over two things in life, your actions and your thoughts.  If you don’t get control over your thoughts, everything else is a lot harder.

Here’s a link to TC’s archive of Weekly Encouragement.

Have a great weekend!

March 6, 2009 in Current Affairs, Entrepreneur Essays | Permalink | TrackBack

May 01, 2008

Strategic Thinking Simplified

The last time I posted an article by my friend Todd Ordal, he didn't have an RSS feed.  Now he does, so if you'd like to subscribe, here is the feed:  http://community.icontact.com/p/appliedstrategy

I particularly liked his latest post, which he's given me permission to reproduce here.  You can also read more from Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info

Strategic Thinking Simplified - By Todd Ordal

I snuck out for a mid-week ski day late in the season this year. It is a luxury to ski during the week because the crowds are minimal. I also enjoy skiing by myself on occasion as I can quickly cover a lot of ground and there is no debate about which part of the mountain to ski on.


After lunch I rode a lift with a middle-aged couple who looked like they were out-of-towners on vacation. (Those of you who ski a lot understand ‘the look”.) I asked them where they were from and they responded “the Detroit area”. As I had taken many business trips to Detroit, we had something to talk about.

Because much of the workforce in Michigan is part of the auto industry, I asked the gentleman if he was employed in the car business. “No”, he replied, “I was for about 20 years but now I have a construction business remodeling homes”. As I asked him a few more questions, it occurred to me that this guy—with no apparent formal business education—was a great strategic thinker.

When I asked how and why he made the transition, he said, “Well it was pretty clear to me that we were heading downhill fast. The Japanese were doing a better job with quality and building cars a whole lot cheaper. Most folks just dug in and put their heads in the sand. I didn’t see this changing so thought that I better change.” In strategic thinking terms, he had clearly identified current reality, thought about the future business environment and realized that a different strategy would be necessary for him to succeed.

I asked how he had picked home remodeling and he responded from a perspective of core competency and industry attractiveness. Those are my words; his were, “I liked building things and worked with tools in the car business, so I thought; where else could I use those skills? Homebuilding seemed the most logical choice, but I didn’t want to be on the hook financially for a large project and have all of my eggs in one basket. I’d rather have several smaller projects going at once.” In strategic terms, he thought about his funding requirements, cash flow needs and the issue of customer concentration.

He went on to say that he worked primarily on high end homes with a niche for kitchens. He liked kitchens because he noted that when socializing, everyone always ends up in the kitchen. “This looks great! Who did the work?”, they ask. More good thinking—specific customer attributes (wealthy—which allowed him to use good materials and hire good subcontractors), branding (a niche in kitchens), and a referral-based marketing plan.

So here is a blue collar guy who clearly understood the key elements of strategic thinking. He thought about the future, identified current reality, thought about his core competencies and used them to connect the dots.

Darn; this guy was smart! “So, how is it going?” I asked. “Pretty good” he said. “We’re out here in Colorado looking at different ski areas for a second home”. I think that next ski season; I’ll get out more during the week…

It's lonely at the top! Todd Ordal serves as a thought-partner to CEOs and other business leaders who are challenged to identify and manage strategy. You can contact Todd at todd@appliedstrategy.info or call 303-527-0417.


You can also subscribe to an email distribution of Todd’s writing.  I get a fair number of email blasts, but I’ve found that I always read Todd’s no matter how many emails are sitting in my inbox.   Todd, thanks again for letting me republish one of your articles.  Speaking of the auto industry, it was nice to see that Ford has turned a profit again.  I wonder how much their Sync initiative has contributed to the turnaround?  It certainly shows to me that they get that customers want more than just reliable transportation.  -- Terry

May 1, 2008 in Entrepreneur Essays | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack