Are you a leader?

I was born in the USSR during difficult times.

As a child, watching the adults around me, I realized that to be strong you need to cultivate the leader inside you.

My parents always told me that the main thing is to be yourself. I think I was lucky because I learned early on that it was better to do whatever myself, instead of waiting for someone else to do it, which made it easier for me to exist in those hard times — fortunately they passed.  

In other words, I developed a lot of initiative and initiative is the number one requirement of being a leader.

super hero or superhero  girl power concept
image source: here

Now, when I read books about being a leader and leadership, I almost always become annoyed. As Wally Bock explains in his blog post, Leadership “wisdom” that makes me crazy

I know from my childhood that not everyone is willing/able to lead and that’s OK. I also learned that nobody can lead all the time.

Of course, I am talking about real leaders as opposed to positional leaders — not all bosses are leaders and not all leaders are bosses.

Simply put, we are all different. Being a leader is an attitude that says “action speaks louder than words” as opposed to education or a set of memorized to-do’s.

In short, real leadership is only learned by doing.

That’s why these actions that demonstrate real leadership and they are underpinned/driven by your natural human qualities of character.

But even with initiative and attitude it still takes work to become a truly authentic leader. Authentic leaders “are sensitive to the impact their words and actions have on others” and that constant awareness is honed by substantial experience no matter your role.

So, if you think leadership is your thing don’t wait to be a boss or get an MBA to do it. Show your initiative and lead any time you get the chance. People will notice and positional leadership opportunities will appear.

Vision

 

I have my second job in the music band named Wkhore.  If you are curious, you can see and follow us hereThat’s me up front singing .  As a frontwoman and a leader I’m the first who thinks about future of the band.  I have my  vision. 

fprma1

forma2

That’s  why this issue is particularly important for me.

Late last year we touched on the importance of vision and what how to turn a vision into reality.

As Eric Ries and all Lean Startup practitioners will tell you “forming a clear vision for your startup is perhaps the most important early thing an entrepreneur can do” — emphasis on clear.

Vision provides guidance to the organization by articulating not only what its product is supposed to achieve, but also sets its values and the environment in which it will happen.

Fred Wilson wrote: A big vision is critical for a big success. You have to know where you want to be in a decade or more. That’s where the long roadmap comes in. … it all starts with a plan. I know companies that are great at communicating but don’t really have a coherent plan. All the communicating in the world won’t help them.

So figure out where you are taking your company. Answer the basic question on everyone’s mind, “what are we doing?” and you will be on a path to building a loyal, hardworking, and motivated team”

But none of these skills will help if, in fact, you are pointed in the wrong direction.

That’s why founders who excel are also great listeners — and not just to those who agree with them.

The greatest danger of vision happens when it is the property of one person; one person who will do anything to sell the vision — anything except share and modify it.

That is why every founder needs to follow the lead of the Romans. When Roman generals rode through the streets for their victory parade they were required to have a person in the chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

Leadership. Motivation

 

There are thousands of articles and entire books on motivation, but for this blog I always look for stuff that is clear and simple and can be used by founders and bosses at any level.

motivation1

image source 

I was introduced to Wally Bock’s blog by a colleague and have found his approach to leadership actions a good fit to my criteria.

In his post, Wally identifies in 8 basic things you need to do to keep your people motivated. They sound simple, but providing them consistently requires focus and effort from you.

Guest post from Wally Bock.

One last time: how do you motivate people?

Apr 07, 2016 03:00 pm | Wally Bock

Continue reading Leadership. Motivation

Leadership. Intro.

Hey everyone, I’m back!

Remember I said I was going on vacation? What I didn’t mention was that it was an unwired vacation.

I was high in the mountains, with friends and no internet access. We played, sang, talked and I had time alone to think and dream. As Miki said in her post, it truly was magical. Take a look!

алтай 2016 1алтай 2016

I came back refreshed and recharged and ready for all the new tasks and projects my boss gave me. Now I can see that my company needs me and I truly make a difference.

Leaving the constant noise gave me time to think and one of the things I found myself thinking about was how entwined leadership and management need to be for a startup to be truly successful.

I agree with Miki that Warren Bennis’ ideas are out of date — if they were ever in. They don’t play well when combined with today’s knowledge workers.

I wondered if “experts” thought that, too, and decided to provide you with solid information to help you become a stronger entrepreneur and a better boss at whatever level.

So the upcoming new series is about the leadership and management. Not just high-level, but how-to’s on specific actions you need to perform. We’ll cover only one topic a week, so you will be able to save and use the series as a reference to help you through the challenges you will face.

Some of the topics we’ll cover are delegation, the pros and cons of ego, visions, culture and structure sans bureaucracy.

What I really hope is that you will write me and suggest the specific topics you want covered or issues you are struggling with. (Easy and safe to ask, because you will stay anonymous.) Write me at ykazantseva@sinergo.ru.

I also hope that you will take a few minutes to add your approaches/solutions when the topic is one you have faced.

I’m not a chatbot

 

My friend in Facebook turned out to be a bot 

I felt just as I would chatting  with a human — but it was a chatbot.

I suddenly remembered Spike Jones’s  futuristic love story Her. It is an exploration into the possibilities of human connection in an environment of disconnectedness and into our evolving definition of what’s real and what’s artificial.  

Are chatbots dangerous? Not yet.

They are artificial intelligence software that can fool a human as Cleverbot and Eugene Goostman (computer program) did.

It was couple of years ago and after a chatbot passed the Turing test that they became a hot topic. With all the hype around AI, it’s sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction for a generation brought up on science fiction films and stories about the interaction of people and machines.

HER

I’ll give it my best try.

Chatbots exist (live?) inside messaging apps like Facebook (M), Apple (Siri), Google (WeChat) and Slack and can do almost everything in virtual world: order your tacos, schedule your meetings, call Uber, even protest your parking tickets (London and NYC for now).

Do they think? No!

They  are just programs that simulate human conversation. To understand that there is no magic and machines are still controlled by humans even If they still seem creepy, review some of the Deep Learning techniques used to build conversational agents.

There is a wave of recent startups working to create new conversation systems between consumers and services. They build consumer apps like Operator or x.ai; bot platforms like Chatfuel and bot libraries, such as Howdy’s Botkit.

Do people prefer to talk to bots instead of human? Sometimes.

Many people, especially those under 35, don’t like calling businesses. In fact, they prefer to avoid conversations whenever possible —  but not all.

In other words, lazy is the new smart and bots are better than friends.

That said, companies that buy into the belief that all their customers, or even a large majority, don’t want good, well-trained, responsive, human customer service are in for a rude awakening. On the other hand, very few companies offer that now.

How many are there? More than you think.

There are certainly plenty of them out there and the number will just keep increasing.

Chatbots have actually existed since the beginning of the internet. But they’re coming back in force now, because there are more channels to use them (various messaging apps) and you can do more stuff with them.

The current jump started last year when large companies began to hint at all the things they’re going to do with the new bots And the biggest “kick-off” arguably happened during the Facebook F8 conference in April 2016.

Do we need to get ready for the chatbot revolution?  

Yes. They are the future of customer engagement, but will not totally replace humans — at least yet. Personalized customer service is harder to create with chatbots and this has created a large resistance to their growing popularity, especially from those like my friend Miki, who has bad hearing and only calls with uncommon problems. The kind that are rarely included in automated menus.

We aren’t to the point of the Rise of the Machines, although they seem smarter and more ironic than some humans.

Clev: What is your aim in life?

To rule the world.

Clev: Then mine is to rule you.

One more thing I want to share with you. 

Starting tomorrow I’m on vacation, but only from NTR.

I’m spending the next two weeks touring with my band (my night job:)

If you are curious, you can see and follow us here. After all, music is music, even if you don’t understand the lyrics. Right? And, again, if you are curious, that’s me up front singing. If I played an instrument no one would listen!

Have lots of summer fun and I’ll be back on August 5th.

Image source: here

Win a T-shirt: Share the changes you have seen

As a recent thirty-something who spent her career as a journalist before joining NTR tech is new to me. that means I don’t have the historical references that help make sense of current happenings.

But journalists are great at asking questions, so I asked a few people what changes they’ve seen in tech. And I’d like to hear about the changes you have seen. Share them in comments to enter the drawing for an NTR T-shirt.

футболкафутболка1

 Dean Wiltse, CEO at FoodLogiQ

A lot happened on the US economy. 2 periods of market collapse and in 2001 was financial global boom. Dot.com and then 2008 the World Economy Crisis. So in between and before it was really isolated artificial economy and business itself had really focused on survivor. I think those of us who have managed business through those periods realised that we always be like there is no tomorrow.

The benefit is the education level has changed and the perception of business has changed. The people of the US realised that education outside is that good or better in many cases especially in technology. And we realised that outside Us we can also find people who appreciate a good job and work ethic. And we started to use outsourcing

I think any time past 2008 is good time for starting business. Now is more difficult to start a new company with a new idea. It’s always about business model

It is said that the only thing that you can always count on is that things will change; this is especially true in the startup world.

Martin Zwilling

Founder & CEO, Startup Professionals, Inc.

I’m seeing a real resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit, and more startup activity than ever before since the recent recession.

In my perspective, the primary change has been a huge decline in the “cost of entry” to be an entrepreneur. For example, 25 years ago, it would cost up to $1 million for software development and hardware to establish a new e-commerce web site. Now, due to powerful tools and templates, you can set up a new e-commerce site for a few hundred dollars or less.

Jeremy Boudinet

Director of Marketing at Ambition

  1. For entrepreneurs, access to venture capital has greatly increased.
  2. Technology has enabled the democratization of entrepreneurship – it’s much easier and cheaper to launch a startup now than it was 25 years ago.
  3.  There’s a true startup ecosystem – tons more experienced talent, networking and mentorship groups, etc. Also make it easier.

Bottom line: It’s 1000x easier to launch a startup now than it was 25 years ago.

With that said, it’s still incredibly, insanely difficult and competitive, but the barrier to entry is as low as it’s ever been.

Nick Mikhaylovsky,

Co-founder/President, NTR Lab

The word “startup” did not exist in Russia before 2006. We used the word “business” to speak about startups. In 2006 other entrepreneurs brought the word “startup” from the Valley.  A full understanding that this is a special type of businesses came in 2012. In 2006 was also heard that there are venture capital firms. It was all like a myth: someone somewhere gives you a lot of money for your business.

There are 3 major categories in which startups have changed. They are market, technology and people. In the market came the realization of what a startup is and the knowledge of the infrastructure with accelerators and venture firms, that has spread its their effect all over the world. The technology changed a lot, especially with the advent of the cloud; development costs plummeted, which meant it was far easier to do a software startup.

15 years ago, most startups failed  because they could not work out what they wanted to develop. Now technology in general has evolved greatly.

The high level of technology in general has led to the fact that startups don’t fail because they are unable to develop the technology. There are no startups failing due to technology. The most  frequent  reason now is that they are unable to develop and support the business model.

Start-ups that are founded in hard times, such as now, are more likely to be successful. Because, first of all, there is less competition and, secondly, in any downturn large corporations are investing in technology companies. Now is not the crisis; now is the correction

Be sure to share the changes you’ve seen below for a chance to win an NTR T-shirt.

All you wanted to know about outsource

Even if you have the talent to do it all, it’s unlikely that you have the time or the energy.

That is why there are dozens of startups that will do it for you — driving, shopping, cleaning, etc.

When you use those services you are outsourcing; actually, you’ve been outsourcing some things forever — think dry cleaning.

Business outsourcing is done for the same reasons and works the same way.

Outsourcing simply means having others do the work.

Hand delete Hire word on blackboard with chalk for business outsourcing concept

image source: here

All kind of  jobs can be outsourced by companies seeking ways to supplement staff, reduce costs or save time or energy. There are  many other reasons to use someone’s help for your business.

And those ‘others’ can be local, domestic or overseas.

Putting solid effort into your project at the beginning will help make your project successful and that starts with finding the right vendor (individual or company), which includes performing in-depth due diligence no matter who refers them.

Whether you hire an individual or a company, it will be the quality and clarity of your communications that make or break the project.

All human interaction results in some kind of relationship and the success of each relationship is grounded in good communications. This is especially true when you reach outside your employee framework to get something done.

We queried Silo members, mostly entrepreneurs, and the response was unequivocal:  effective communications is an absolute requirement and it is the responsibility of the person doing the hiring to see that it happens. If parameters, expectations, delivery dates, budget, etc., are not clearly stated, understood and monitored, the likelihood of a less-than-stellar outcome is also the responsibility of the hiring person.

Beyond saving time and money, outsourcing, whether local or global, is a way to stretch all your resources.

It allows you to do more with less, which has been and always will be the smartest move for startups and SMB.

I sincerely hope this series will help you see outsourcing as another business tool that you can use with confidence.

Outsourcing: professionals’ opinion

In the second post of this series I said that clear communications was the single, most important factor when outsourcing, whether locally or globally.

I said this based on conversations with my management, since NTR does remote development for both large companies and startups.

I asked my friend Miki what she thought and she agreed. But, since we are both hyper-focused on communications, she suggested posting the question to Silo, a startup tech forum. Here is the question she asked.

What is the single, most important point when outsourcing local or global?

Anything can be outsourced, not just sftwr dev. Biz outsource recruiting, benefits/payroll, design, marketing, sales, etc. Personally, we outsource shopping, cleaning, child-rearing, etc.

For an outsourcing series at http://blog.ntrlab.com/ tell me in one sentence the single, most important advice you can offer when outsourcing.

Outsourcing-Bus-2012

image credit: here

The first response was from Silo founder Moshik Raccah, “To me, the most important aspects for successful outsourcing are setting expectations and communication. It’s also the hardest to get right.”

Sagit Weiss, Founder and CEO at Crowdacure, was quick to chime in. “Agree. Clear expectations and communication”

Computational Biologist Doron Lemze added an astute warning to which few pay enough attention, “When you outsource think if you can live with less control on the element that you outsource.”

Irene Lefton, with a career fostering global services and customer success added more detail, “Align objectives with your contract terms – both parties need to benefit and it needs to be clear what the team will do and what outcomes are expected.”

Israel Rand, VP Business Development & Sales at Labgoo, elaborates the value and yield of good communications, “I think that communication is the most important piece in outsourcing! If both, the user and the outsourcer have an open good communication channel, then there aren’t any surprises. The rest will follow (expectation, pricing, changes etc.)”

And Oleksandr (Alex) Andriyanov, CEO of American Programming Company adds, “From my humble prospective Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies should keep in mind Business Value for the Customer. This way everything else is coming in place.”

Finally, Gal Nirel, an online and offline entrepreneur, expanded on what’s involved and, sadly, the cost of not doing it, “I outsource to achieve a business goal, the benefits can be reducing the time to customer/market, cost or other company’s resources. Since outsourcing has its risks the most important element in my view would be to mitigate it by setting clear objectives, KPI’s and the resources to manage it and stop/modify it if necessary. If you can’t manage it well, you can’t outsource it well.

Writing it with pain for my friend who just closed his business this week burned his entire seed round on a bad, poorly managed outsourced product project…”

There you have it. My totally unscientific sampling confirms without a doubt that clear, well thought-out communications are the key to successfully outsourcing a project, whether large or small.

No real surprise, since good communications is the secret sauce in every successful venture, from marriage to management to parenting and anything else you can think of.

Outsourcing: Finding the Right Vendor

As we said at the start of this series, outsourcing simply means hiring outsiders to perform tasks that would be done internally if the time and/or talent were available.  

Outsourcing often goes against the grain, since most founders believe that no one can do it as well/better than they can, so your first act is to put your ego in the closet until further notice.

Your outsourcing success will be based on the effort you expend finding the right partner, not the cheapest, and the strength of your communications.

The cost, complexity, scope and deadlines are your most important criteria when deciding whether you want the work done locally, domestically or off-shore.

аутсорс 1

image credit: here

Finding vendors, whether individuals or companies, to do whatever work you want done is easy; identifying the right one to hire is the difficult part. This is even more critical when outsourcing technical product development (software or hardware).

Start by asking trusted advisors (as opposed to your drinking buddies), preferably those who have outsourced themselves. It’s good to ask your network, just remember to consider the source of the recommendation along with the rec itself.

There are dozens of sites, such as Upwork (was Elance), CraigsList and Outsource.com, where you can browse the talent, but be sure to read the comments, too.

Obviously, you need to develop a detailed description of the skills and experience you need, just as you would if hiring in-house.

And, just as obviously, you need to do more than check their Yelp rating.

Time spent reference checking and actually speaking to previous clients can be the difference between a brilliant match and a mediocre one, because along with the technical skills for whatever the project, the human interaction needs to be positive, too. The last thing you need is arrogance that doesn’t listen or a contact who won’t ask questions to clarify something.

Once you identify a vendor you like, query your network to see if anyone has used them and talk to them (the same for other references) — it’s amazing what you can find out in a conversation as opposed to a text or bunch of yes/no questions.

The effort to successfully outsource is much like a marriage — finding the right partner and completing the courtship are the easy parts; the real work starts when the contract is signed.

Here are more resources to help you do it right.

 

Outsource: communications

 

 

What is the common thread that runs through every successfully outsourced project, whether a new website outsourced to the designer you met at Starbucks, your payroll to a recommended company on the other coast or a new product to an overseas development team?

Crystal clear communications — which aren’t all that common.

Joseph Priestley said, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”

Russell Hoban warns, “After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?”

Good communications are what sustains all human interactions (the result of every interaction is a form of relationship) and this is especially true when you reach outside your employee framework to get something done. Good communication with employees needs to come from the heart.

аутсорсинг

image credit: here

Your own people have experience deciphering what you really mean, even when you aren’t as clear as you should be.

Outsiders lack that experience, so it is your responsibility, not theirs, to make sure you are understood.

It’s your responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page, whether it is a large project involving remote teams doing product development or a small one outsourced to an individual.

And while managers in established companies can afford to hire project managers, it is more typically DIY for startup founders.

My company, NTR Lab, provides remote software development teams for both startups and scaling companies. Nick (our president) says that poor and/or incomplete information has wasted more time than any other action, even pivoting.

My friend Miki, who writes for startups, vented her frustration with them by writing 5 Rules for Interacting with Contractors and Other Non Employees; she sends the link and insists they read it before they start working together.

If you need still more motivation keep reminding yourself that if you can’t/don’t/won’t make the effort to fully communicate from the start, and over time, then you don’t get to complain when the results aren’t what you wanted.