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How to Run Lean and Agile at the Same Time?

Frameworks for projects delivery or products development are like multivitamin pills – they offer plethora of elements and compounds you can select from depending on your need or challenge. After years of practicing lean and agile frameworks I concluded that there is no conflict between the two – on the contrary, you can benefit from both in the same project depending on its stage and work requirements.

Nevertheless, let us start from the basics – fundamental approaches in project management are  either oriented on linearity, sequence orientation and processes, or  oriented on people, their expectations, priorities and management of dynamics related.

The first approach  used to be called waterfall approach, and it was well recognized in project management methodologies such as PMBOK, PRINCE, PRINCE 2 and Lean methods (all of them in recent years are incorporating principles from the second approach we will define in a second). The beauty and power of waterfall approach lies in orientation on sequence of the tasks to be performed and processes enabling them. Processes can be visualized (using e.g. Business Processes Modeling Notation language) – and what can be visualized can be discussed and improved. Switching the balance to the processes in waterfall approach makes work and teamwork constructive, if the team  acknowledge that seeing, analyzing and improving processes is what they should pursue.

I like the lean method due to its orientation on process improvement, and its mindset proving that whereas it is almost impossible to change other people’s minds, it is much more easy to agree on visualizing, aiming to understand and improve the process or solve the problem (especially so called root causes behind the problems) in continuous improvement environment. Key rituals and artifacts from lean approach I’ll keep forever, refer to them often and try to use daily are Kanban, Andon, 7/8 waste and 5/6 s. Andon is stopping the process where every next step could only accumulate defects spotted right on 7/8 waste is looking for and eliminating customer non-value adding activities from your work. To learn more about 5/6 philosophy try this lean game calculator available online and see short movie exemplifying waste elimination orientation in lean.

The second approach which proliferates worldwide in recent years used to be called agile (traditionally agility is defined as ability to move quickly, easily, intelligently). Project management methodologies in agile approach are much more than bodies of work or frameworks, as agility recommends allowing the context to determine deploying roles, rituals and tools from its repertoire. Recognized and respected agile product development methodologies  are Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM), Crystal and finally SCRUM. To feel the taste and right context of agile approaches I recommend you to imagine that there is a customer, which has some needs, let us call them requirements – and these requirements flow through your team. Now, in order to satisfy the customer and meet their requirements, you will organize iterative work (yes step-by-step with multiple feedback-loops and priority changes options). Key rituals and artifacts from agile approach that I try to use as often as possible are Kanban, asking for Voice of the Customer in the work (which in SCRUM is served by role of Product Owner), planning work using backlogs, and making it digestible in form of one or two week chunks (called in SCRUM sprint backlogs). Building your product basing on customer’s feedback in iterative way also key characteristic of lean start-up approach, which we wrote about some time ago (lean start-up method has much more to do with agility). Agile approaches welcome changing environment and circumstances gladly – they are oriented to respond to them quickly and effectively.

Using simplified sprint backlogs proved to me to be so effective that I even deployed it into other fields of my performance such as writing scholar papers with multiple teams and multiple quantity in the same time – SCRUM makes such contexts much more graspable and with feeling of control. I do not know any better introduction into SCRUM in timing less than 10 minutes than this movie – if you know such please do not hesitate to comment and share. One of the infographics that reflects agile approaches principles I like most can be found here. One of my favorite podcasts dedicated in great degree to understanding details of SCRUM is Manager Plus run by Mariusz Chrapko.

So – coming back to the title and beginning of this post – project delivery or product development methodologies are like multivitamin pills. Very often in one project you will work close with the customer to come out with solution (can be a new product or combination of products and services you already offer) – in this context you will benefit much from agile approach. In the same project, but at different stages like formal purchase, procurement or deployment of solution in customer’s organization you will need solid, understandable, replicable, process-oriented approach – and this is where you will benefit more using a  lean approach..

Practicing different project management methodologies, frameworks and bodies of work enabled me to formulate one more conclusion – related to managing polarities (famous management consulting concept with theoretical framework developed by B. Johnson in 90’s of XX century) where both waterfall approaches and agile approaches are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Neither of them enables to face current business expectations on its own, and maybe business-wisdom is about trying to manage and leverage them appropriating benefits related?

What is your experience with running both lean and agile?

Disciplined Art of Scaling-Up

In previous post I’ve covered topics related to business formation and new market entry, incl. business model development, prototyping minimal viable product or service, valuating new venture, making it investable, and getting founded. In this post, I relate to a phase of company’s development following market introduction –so called growth phase.

G. Duruflé, T.Hellman and K. Wilson in From Start-Up to Scale-Up Examining Public Policies for the Financing of High-Growth Ventures define scale-ups as start-ups that have successfully established market presence and experienced rapid growth.

For the sake of this post let’s assume that new market entrant finds itself in the growth phase when its product has been already tested and market demand for it exceeds its initial operations capacity. Growth phase for new ventures is intrinsically related with phenomenon of scaling-up – enlarging market presence and growing company’s operations capacity,  understood as ability to manufacture and deliver product or service.

Scaling up has been recently wider discussed in entrepreneurship and innovation policy making discourse. This phase of growing new businesses has proven to be critical for their survival and performance, and is often backed-up with new employments. Growth is also a phase when many new companies become overwhelmed with unexpected and surprisingly high demand for their products and services, and due to that they often fail by loosing production capacity or financial liquidity.

Scaling-up requires different set-up of methods and tools from public entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders. Recent research results published by Innovate UK pointed out factors contributing to successful scaling-up process. I’ll focus on those I find the most challenging and crucial – people, strategy & cash.

As strong management team is critical to a successful scale-up, company founders need to enlarge original team to find time for other matters, such as e.g. strategy. This requires recruiting right people and avoiding miss matches. One of approaches that helps that is value-based recruitment focused on assessing match of candidate with values and culture of the company.

Why it’s important to focus on values? They seem to be often inherent, whereas skills can be learned and mastered. In value-based recruitment you might request the candidate  to imagine they come back home extremely happy and excited after work in your company and then ask to explain to you what could have happened during the day in the firm so they feel like that. You’ll learn also learn about their values, motivations and development plans by asking what could have happened if they came back home sad and depressed.

In scaling-up phase you’ll rather follow lean approach toward recruitment which is also about using your network, asking for references and second opinions to find right candidates. You can find some more tips related to growing team in early stage venture at blog of Ben Yoskovitz.

In relation to people in growing phase you are also in situation of thinking on more or less formal organizational design, which might vary from functional, divisional through matrix ones – at least before maturity of your organizational allow you for to self-organizing teams and give individuals broad freedom to choose their own priorities and tasks. It’s also the moment you intensify thinking about harmonizing individual efforts toward defined goals of organization through set up of objectives and performance indicators for your co-workers. Some food for thought in this context comes from Peter Thiel – co-founder of Pay Pal we wrote about some time ago.

Second important item related to scaling-up  is strategy. By strategy I understand not getting first paying customers, but rather rigorous way to answering the question on where you’d like to be in the marketplace and how you’d like to get there in time for 3 to 5 years. You get there through strategy development process requiring formulation of ideas & options, their evaluation and selection, setting up main strategic direction backed up with clear objectives, resources you control and action steps you set-up and execute. And yeah, if you offer acouple of different products or services, you develop separate strategy for each and every of them.

Business strategy is not the mission and vision your customers will find on your website. When the outcomes strategy development start saying about market share you plan to own and profit margins you want to achieve – that will be pretty close to what business strategy is about. After time when you get convinced it’s your biggest trade secret embracing insights and know-how straight from the crater – you are there.

Here you’ll find some tools pretty useful in strategy development process, especially for market-position analysis part, which precedes discussion on strategic development directions. Some other approaches useful for analysis of your competitive environment might incl. Porter 6-forces, product life-cycle, or benchmarking. You can also get answers to questions asked by rigorous application of SWOT analysis framework.

Although the process and tools might sound abstract, as entrepreneur you should take your first steps to have strategy developed. Just consider to designate small strategy development team of your employees and ask them to meet regularly for advancing strategy formulation. In between, they can talk with vendors and customers and prospects, research competitors, and try some strategy development tools , which anyway will lead you further than not trying to tackle strategy at all.

As noticed by V. Harnish in Scaling Up nothing consumes cash as fast as growth phase. Therefore third most important ingredient in scaling-up  is cash flow management. V. Harnish advices a proactive approach toward management of growing company liquidity through conscious cash flow management and building reserves through e.g. dynamic pricing, competitive sourcing, lowering operating costs, collecting due amounts faster, reducing inventory and acceptable delaying payments to others. Some concrete practices the author recommends to consider relate to preparing in advance and sending error-free bills to customers on time or keeping 60 days’ cash on hand to cover potential expenses and avoid difficulties, which in scaling-up  should never be fixed with lines of credit.

Some non-obvious ideas for lowering operating costs and increasing company’s performance can be found in Exponential Organizations written by S. Ismail, M. S. Malone and Y. van Geest. Authors preach approaches of smart partnering, exploiting and leveraging other people’s assets and resources if one have none, using games, challenges, quizzes and competitions to tap mind power of people in their communities and engaging them in creating value which originally was though as something to purchase from the outside.

So, in what stage of development is the venture you support?

Platform Economics – What Matching Users is About?

Nowadays companies can reach valuations exceeding billions of dollars and deliver value the customers look for without even physically owning resources they trade. In times when access to resources is becoming more important than their ownership, economists debate whether we should call this phenomena a sharing economy, community marketplace, or simply uberization of everything.

So what common principles stand behind DogVacay enbling to browse, book & pay for a pet sitter or dog walker, WeWork allowing to find office space or shared desk in city of your choice, or Zilok letting you rent anything ranging from a car through gardening tools to venue for an event?

All these businesses are platforms active in specific, two-sided markets with distinct user groups, who look for specific benefits. Therefore we can call them two-sided platforms. DogVacay matches pet owners with pet sitters, WeWork intermediates between office space and desk owners and office workers and freelancers. Zilok arranges interactions between various lenders and borrowers concluding in transactions.

Principle reason for two-sided platforms to exist is need of intermediary able to match user groups in more efficient way than using traditional approach. In Matchmakers. The New Economics of Multisided Platforms D. Evans and R. Schmalensee explain that connecting buyers and payers in virtual place enables sales, and therefore platform operators can fairly charge for it. Platform intermediaries minimize costs which alternatively users would have invested in traditional research, reviews and recommendations. By doing this platforms organize, simplify and standardize market activity making it easier and cheaper. For example, Airbnb enabling rental of apartments  in over 190 countries in the world charges both hosts and guests which altogether might cumulate in double digit transaction fee earned by Airbnb platform operator from single reservation made.

For providers of goods (e.g. cars, office desk, gardening tools, event venues) and services (e.g. walking the dog) two-sided platforms might become source of alternative and often recurring revenue, and all what is needed is allowing own resources to be advertised and rented.

If you’ll ever consider entering platform business do know that their value strictly depends on the number of users both those whooffer the product or service and on those who are seeking it. This concept is broader known as network effect and the more users you have the more they will pay you to access to bigger network and your margins will improve. This is how LinkedIn intermediating between employers and employees maximizes its platform revenues. On the one hand it offers freemium account for all professionals, who would like to leave their job curriculum online, on the other it charges recruiters , who are eager to pay to browse millions of users. Employees looking for a way to distinguish among other half of a billion of LinkedIn registered users are also eager to pay fee for that. Therefore even if small percentage of your growing user base is eager to pay you can be profitable.

As there are many types of two-sided platforms you might be interested in their typology. Transaction platforms represent one which intermediate in facilitation of exchange of goods and services or transactions between different users, buyers and suppliers. Non-typical transaction platforms are time banks, such as Time Republic or Japanease Furei Kippu schemes.

An innovation platform is another type of two-sided market platform matching owners of challenges or problems to solve with inventors or solvers. These platforms nurture creation of innovation and open communication of solutions looked for. One of the most popular platform of that type is Innocentive, which I wrote about some time ago here.

The last type of platforms I want to bring to your attention  are investment ones that enable you to invest into prospecting business or to be invested in, as in example of crowdfunding platforms, or peer-to-peer lending ones represented by Upstart.

As we might recognize platformization of economy as certain trend, what are the strategies for attracting and building solid base of users to capitalize on two-sided platform business? G. Parker, M. Van Alstyne and S. Choudary detail couple of such strategies in Platform Revolution How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You.

One of such strategies is “The piggyback” where you need to find an existing platform to connect with its current users. By doing this you lower costs and time of user acquisition time. PayPal initially was available as payment option for eBay users and afterwards it easily  became online payment standard. Another strategy is called “Follow-the-rabbit”. Here you need to set up a pipeline with demonstration project proving your business model can succeed. You charm initial base of users by offering them freemium account and capitalize on other type of user. By growing up significant users base using freemium model one day you might represent dominant standard in the industry, and then start charging for platform usage. “The micromarket” is one where you select niche but influential target market with users, who already interact and by growing this micromarket you gain access to larger one.

What I remembered from my MBA studies from classes on two-sided market platforms with Dr Gal Oestereicher-Singer from Tel Aviv University is that winners in  platform usually don’t have  the “best” product, but most often they have the “best” platform strategy. And this also requires using open (but not too open) interface, modular architecture enabling easy extension of platform functionalities and compelling complements.

So what is your platform strategy?



What Valuable Service is not yet Being Provided ?

What valuable service is not yet being provided? Answering this question is the first step toward creating a company that don’t have to bother with competitors. Peter Thiel asks this question often in Zero to One. Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, which provides wide array of unorthodox rules underlying creation of natural monopolies by start-ups.

According to Peter Thiel monopoly is not a pathology, or an exception, but a company that is consciously planned to achieve and sustain leading position at the market. Context for bringing attention of Peter Thiel’s readers to monopolies relates to reflection of the author on contemporary stat-up’s market choices. Pether Thiel believes that every big, existing market is a bad choice for a newcomer is a bad choice, and a big, existing market with rival companies is even worse.

Therefore author introduces and thoroughly explains logics and reasons of success of contemporary monopolies, these are companies with significant market shares in what they do, such as Google, Airbnb, or Uber. In that context category of competitionless monopolies might have particular importance for start-ups aspiring to status of unicorns.

So what differs unicorns companies from the little ponies? According to Peter Thiel one of the most important rules is that the technology, which company aspiring to be a monopoly wants to introduce to the market, should be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute. Creation and protection of intellectual property related to such technology is the first step of competitive advantage based on a monopoly status and enabling to outperform competitors. Another factors actively contributing to creation of monopoly are combined effects of economies of scale, company’s network and its brand.

Peter Thiel shares loads of valuable tips, which founders of start-ups can take into account in order to build and maximize their value. According to Peter Thiel founders should have a lot of common experiences prior to set-up of the company, and should think of management team consisting of not less than 3, but no more than 5 members. It’s also important that its CEO pays themselves no more than USD 150 thousands per year. The team, built by founders, should consist only of people, who can fully engage in company’s activity, except external accountants or lawyers of course. There is no place for part-time employees or remote working during the stage when company wants to build its value exponentially. Monopoly status aspiring start-ups should know why they do something important, and why anyone else is not doing it. This is the basis to attract first employees, who don’t have to be offered with high salaries, but non-financial compensation as well, including share in equity in the company they build. According to Peter Thiel such approach to compensation makes long term engagement of first employees more plausible. It’s also important to clearly define areas of responsibilities of new employees. Clear definition and assessment of performance against results in clear area of responsibility enables to avoid conflicts of interest between employees.

Peter Thiel also shares on distribution channels of start-ups products, services, or solutions; and introduces concept of customer acquisition costs being always lower than the customer lifetime value. Only high price of offered good justifies high marketing expenses.

Peter Thiel reveals insights on rules that Venture Capital firms use to make their decisions on investments into prospecting start-ups. One of such rule is that Venture Capital firms can only afford to invest in companies, which return on investment might exceed value of whole Venture Capital firm. Author makes a comment, that because of such a strict rule, there are no other rules.

It looks that, as a partner in Founders Fund, Peter Thiel sticks to what he claimed in Zero to One. Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. Founders Fund carefully selects and invests in start-ups, which are not popular, difficult to assess, and bear high technology risk, but create their own place at the market.

Before launching Founders Fund Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal, which in 2002 was acquired by eBay for USD 1,5 bln. In 2005 he joined board of directors at Facebook and was one of the first external investors. USD 500k he invested into Facebook turned in almost USD 400 mln during first public offering of the company.

So, what valuable service is not yet being provided ?


How to Get to Singularity University?

English word singularity means the quality of being one of a kind, and this what entrepreneurs will find in Singularity University in Silicon Valley, US. Singularity University is not a typical higher education school. Its mission is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies that address humanity’s greatest challenges.

You can find in its offer  intense entrepreneurial programmes like Exponential Manufacturing, or Exponential Medicine, but what the school is mostly famous of is its Global Solutions Programme.

Each year the Global Solutions Programme gathers future leaders, entrepreneurs, and technologists for 10 weeks to work together on team-based technology solutions tackling global challenges. The Programme covers, among others, Future Studies & Forecasting, Networks & Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and workshops when you can experience emerging, exponential technologies. During the programme you work with social entrepreneurs, scientists, technologists, designers, physicians, and engineers o form real companies, and let the  ideas   grow further. Programme combines educational part with hands-on technology experience. In one of the past editions participants of the programme had the workshops  with autonomous car of Google, which had been acquired by one of university lecturers.

In this year, the 10 week Global Solutions Programme will take place from 18th of June till 28th of August 28.If you have a unique idea that will improve the lives of millions of people and would like to apply for the programme  in 2016 ,you can still do it through one of multiple Global Impact Competitions, enabling the winners  to participate in the Programme for free.

Applying is enabled for anyone who comes  from Central & Eastern Europe, Chile, Italy, Norway, Peru, South Africa or US. If you decide to go for it you’ll find some application tips & tricks in the video here.




Singularity University is not only an immersive entrepreneurial focused programme provider, but also a start-up accelerator, think-thank, and global community builder.

For its alumni school offers possibility to build and lead their own chapter or a salon, which enables them to connect with fellow alumni ,  spin around exponential technologies and work together further.

Alumni can build own chapter, or host a salon.

Dedicated to a dear colleague of mine, whose recommendation for participation in SU GSP 2016 I was honored to write. I keep my fingers crossed for you.


What Entrepreneurs Can Learn form Starbucks?

Recently I have been delving into Starbucks Coffee Company transformation in 2008-2014, which they undertook in response to their slowing down performance in years preceding it. Starbucks is American coffeehouse chain set up in 1971 with more than 23 thousand points of sales globally as for 2015, and over 36 million fans on Facebook. Business case of Starbucks transformation is a great example of investing in a range of new products and customer experience. As some of this tactics are inspiring and may have universal character, I decided to share them with you.

To engage customers Starbucks launched in January 2008 “My Starbucks Idea” (inspired by IdeaStorm.com, and developed together with Salesforce.com). “My Starbucks Idea” enabled customers to pitch improvement proposals for Starbucks, and from one-way suggestion box it evolved into opportunity to connect. Within first 24 hours over 7 thousand of ideas were submitted, and in the first week over 100 thousand of customers voted on suggestions such as “free Wi-Fi for all”, “give customers free coffee on their birthdays”, in-store music, menu options, or recycling tips. Starbucks has incorporated 25 the most popular ideas within first year of this initiative. By 2013 over 150 thousand of ideas were generated and 277 were incorporated, including e.g. e-gifting beverages to friends, and famous loyalty cards.

One of my favorite examples of initiative transforming Starbucks sales results within transformation period is one of loyalty reward initiatives launched by the company in summer period. A challenge for Starbucks was to stimulate recurring purchases by the same customers during the same day. As the company analysed the sales data, and customers behavior related to purchases done during customers morning walks to work, they offered each of such customer a customer reward in form of “Treat Receipt” to return the same day, but in the afternoon for Grande cold beverage at reduced price of course. Customers used it to get back to Starbucks during their lunch breaks, or on their way home. The programme appeared to be a great success and helped to mitigate “afternoon slowdowns” of lower traffic in the afternoon in the coffeehouses.

To boost financial performance Starbucks rolled out in 2011 “Starbucks Mobile App” for iPhone and iPod, which additionally stimulated usage of Starbucks Card and Rewards programme, as free application enabled to quickly convert existing Starbucks Cards to mobile-phone based accounts. As per customer research done by Starbucks indicated that they were particularly looking for value in form of loyalty, and customer rewards, electronically boosted Cards and Rewards programme appeared to be one of the biggest contributors to Starbucks transformation.
As preparing great coffee requires proper barista training, in February 2008 over 7 thousand of Starbucks were closed in the US for “Espresso Excellence Training”, despite the financial and reputational costs of having so many locations closed at the same time. Door of each closed store informed “We’re taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That’s why we’re dedicating ourselves to honing our craft”. This example shows the role of investing in essential organizational capabilities, even at the cost of trading them off with daily business activity. Wise people say that if you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.

In October 2008, when the New Orleans in US was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, leadership of Starbucks decided to organize its Leadership Conference in this city, and over 10 thousand employees of Starbucks gathered to rebuild New Orelans, and demonstrated Starbucks mission and values. The example of supporting the right cause shows that massive engagement of company employees, can both demonstrate social responsibility, unite employees, and boost energy during business transformation.
Dzida !

Cars of the Future – are you Ready for a Ride?

In today’s discourse relating to trends impacting future of automotive industry we can distinguish several streams creating plenty of new business opportunities, for start-ups and small and medium enterprises in particular.

Some of such trends is development of electric vehicles, and shift toward near zero emission engines. Electric vehicles are disruptive innovation, and as such they provide new quality in new dimension, but worse quality in established performance parameters. Those problematic parameters relate to battery charging time, complementary charging infrastructure, and battery storage capacity itself. Except Tesla Motors, already discussed at blog, you can find interesting developments of Aptera Motors focused on resovling those problems .

Another trend impacting cars of the future is mass customization, and mass personalization enabling to  most radical example of company enabling to design and literally print a car, as in case of Local Motors that can be used for regular transportation. Another examples are: BMW which enabled Mini Cooper users to design customized and personalized roof of the car, which was digitally printed on special foil; or Fiat enabling to design customized interior of Fiat 500. A different,widely discussed trend in the field of automotive industry are autonomous , or self-driven cars, on which discourse, according to Appinions, is dominated by companies such as Google, Intel, or GM. What I like about autonomous cars is that the discussion about them enables  exploring not only  new opportunities related to sensors, or decision making algorithms, but also the quality of travel and travel experience itself, when attention of human driver will be not required anymore. What is implication of this fact? People travelling with autonomous cars in order not to get bored will have to be entertained, and that can open a whole new market of autonomous cars entertainment industry. Just take a look at the picture from Geneva Motor Show, on how travel in such a car  could look like. What Appinions will not tell you however is the fact that there are companies, which prototyped self-driving cars have made many more millions of autonomous miles than Google’s car. These companies are Volvo, and Caterpillar.

Another trend relates to what  comes after self-driving cars, and these are obviously “personal air vehicles” developed e.g. by Terrafugia, or Moller Skycar.

The automotive innovations relate not only to engeernering technology, but also  new business models enabling to achieve commercial profits from introduction of new technologies. In terms of new automotive business models I’ve been recently inspired by Chinese company Didi Kuaidi, being one of the biggest competitors of Uber in Asia. There are 5 million of drivers working for Didi Kuaidi in 150 cities in China, and the services offered by the company are not only traditional taxi services, but also social ride sharing, private car service, or designated private chauffeur driving services. Having strong competitors in China like Dida Kuaidi, or in India like Ola Cabs, Uber is not missing opportunities to constantly innovate, and recently had introduce the service of Uber Pool and splitting the cost of a drive between passengers, who joined the ride in the same direction on the go, or Uber Eats enabling food ordering and deliveries of food by Uber car drivers. Who will be next to introduce similar, or more sophisticated services?

Taking a look at above developments, one of the most exciting future business sport for those who capture new opportunities may be the transport.



 Source:  www.blog.nxp.com

Dzida !

Doing Business in Palo Alto

Palo Alto, which name derives from old coastal redwood tree is located in Santa Clara County, US, approx. 50 km south of San Francisco, and 20km north of San Jose.

The city is famous not only because  of its innovative community and being headquarters  to companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, or Tesla. The city is also famous because of its venture capital firms, Nobel Prize winners, and Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. On top of that it has a pretty unique local business ecosystem, which is of my particular interest, as I analyzed dozens of such within my doctoral thesis entrepreneurial activities of local authorities at regional investment markets, and never found one such excellent as this.

What amazes me in Palo Alto the most is its digital excellence related to fiber ring providing ultrafast Internet to the citizens. And also, plenty of electronic services and applications stimulated by the city council through various mobile application challenges, which aim directly at increase of local communities   engagement. Current and planned activities of the city council are transparently communicated in the calendar here. 

When you are in Palo Alto, you can use mobile applications for connecting with your neighborhood communities, being notified about local news and events, or browse public libraries catalogues.

Electronic services provided by the city enable citizens to track council meetings, agendas, minutes, and videos, analyze local budget data, job openings, or register for volunteer trainings, and certifications.

Not only there are many  applications supporting  development of  stronger and safer neighborhoods. Palo Alto is also a sudden-cardiac-arrest  protected city thanks to partnership with non-government organization Racing Hearts, which had installed, and increases awareness of using automated electronic defibrillators (AEDs).

City Council provides great deal of help in terms of knowledge and know-how on starting, and growing a business,  elaborating on topics such as: marketing, promotion, selling skills, business and social networking, hiring and managing employees, getting access to business trainings, and doing business with various partners, incl. the government.

Locally business relationships are also fostered by Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which numerous events can be found here.

City closely cooperates with Stanford University, where Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)is located, with over 3000 scientists work on photon science and particle physics research. If you are interested in dark matter mysteries you can either find SLAC’s internships, and fellowships opportunities valuable, or visit one of the public lectures.

One thing I didn’t mention when I was elaborating on Stanford’s University business accelerator, or university sponsored venture capital firm, is Stanford Research Park, which played important role in creation of Silicon Valley and Cantor Arts Center. The latter is located at the university’s campus with magnificent Rodin’s sculpture garden. Visiting is for free, of course.

If you are visiting San Francisco, you will get easily to Palo Alto by Caltrain.

If my arguments didn’t convince you to explore the city a little bit, there is just one more thing, which are gourmet sliders and IPA beer served in the Sliderbar at 324 University Ave.

                                                                  Source: Own media library.


Million Start-up Mentors

As a start-up enterpreneur could you imagine having direct access to mentors ready to support all aspects of your business strategy and its execution? As a mentor wouldn’t it be great to become official member of advisory board in a start-up working on breakthrough technology?
There are plenty of advantages of having official advisory board in a start-up including access to people ready to share with their expertise, or make relevant introductions. Not mentioning the impact of advisory board on investor’s perception of the start-up and general valuation of the company.
As for the people mentoring start-ups, they get direct access to new ways of thinking and developing value proposals for the market. They also get credible experience of a mentor or an advisory board member to boost their personal career development, and show-off in their resumes.
Having an advisory board in a start-up is already a typical practice for start-ups in the US. Just take a look at example of Accion Systems, or Silverside Detectors I recently met in Greentown Labs in Sommerville. The latter already develops products with co-financing of NASA and has commercial contracts with US Ministry of Defense. 
As a start-up to find a mentor you can search existing career portals, narrowing down the search to experience and skills of people you look for. You can also enroll for business accelerator programmes, which provide a pool of mentors. Sometime the pool is pre-defined, and mentors are representatives of business accelerator partners, which also has it advantages, as in case of people with great industrial knowledge, and genuine interest in technologies that are being developed.
As a mentor-to-be, who would like to share with start-ups its wisdom and experience you can register at Startup Grind which gives you an access to start-ups from all over the world and currently tests its new mentorship functionalities. If you are particularly interested and fluent in  doing business in defined region you can take a look at local business acceleration programmes, as in case of Turn8 from United Arab Emirates, or The Wise Guys from Estonia. Expectations from start-up mentor, are not extraorbitant at all. Once you declare you want to be one, in most of the cases you choose how much time per month you would like to give, and what is the way of contact you prefer (e-mail, phone, Skype, or direct meetings). 
Success of such initiatives like “Million Women Mentors” shows that delivering and using mentorship can contribute to both business and career development, and mentorship is a great way of “giving back to the society”. In some cases the idea of delivering mentorship can be linked with enabling access to finance, and becomimg a part of corporate social responsibility programmes, as in case of 10 000 women led by Goldman Sachs with programme budget of USD 600 mln.

If you take a look at contemporary evolution of “2-sided markets”, which are mainly about platforms decreasing the asymmetry of people with defined needs and people ready to satisfy them, there clearly is a place in digital space for initiative such as “Million Start-up Mentors”.

Everyone has know-how and skills to step out of the crowd and share, and there are lots of people, who will be truly grateful for it. As it would seriously contribute to wealth of nations, I think it’s only matter of time when initiative of “Million Start-up Mentors” will commence 😉

                                               Source: Own photo library.

Why Teleconferences Suck?

You are organizing a teleconference, and surprisingly it doesn’t start on time, people cannot dial in, they don’t distinguish “leader code” from “participant code”, a few people know the objectives, and certainly no one knows who is really on the line
Sounds familiar? 
If not, just look at the movie below showing how, in most cases, teleconferences look like, and what happens  from different points of view…
In teleconferences, just like in regular meetings there are rules, which can save both time and effort if you stick to them:
  • Rule # 1 – “No agenda – no teleconference” – if you are an organizer of teleconference communicate key objectives and expectations to the participants before the virtual  meeting . If you are participant and you don’t see  clear agenda – just don’t be shy to ask what is the point of doing it.
  • Rule #2 – “There is a difference between a leader and participant” – every time you join a teleconference you wonder who is on the line and whether you should or should not introduce yourself  if the conference has already started. So let’s make it clear: always introduce yourself when you join the call, and if you are leader (formal role of person appointing the teleconference and sending the agenda), just tell the person who just has joined who is in the room. Do it every time someone new joins. It’s such a huge time saver compared to having n-people say “hi” one after another and introduce themselves to the person who’s just joined.
  • Rule#3 – “No minutes – no teleconference“- just imagine somebody could not make it and didn’t join the teleconference you have splendidly planned. So what you are going to do to avoid numerous calls on what have happened during the teleconference in case it was missed by more than couple of participants? Just prepare a short summary with key things discussed, agreed upon , and next steps planned . Send it to all teleconference participants the same day the teleconference took place together with thank-you-note for participation, engagement and contribution of those who joined in.
What are your tips for making time at work efficient and meaningful?


                                                             Source: www.youtube.com