Thursday, September 12, 2013

Take control of your personal brand

Have you googled yourself lately? What would google say about you? That you are a great professional?, that your rock climb?, that you are a drunken frat boy/girl with antisocial behavior?  Most people pay very little attention to what is published about them on the web and most will recklessly document their good, the bad and the infamous part of their lives in Facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest… but being so non-chalant about the information out there will not help us in our career or our personal lives. It can even affect your credit score. Dispel your illusion than your personal and professional lives are separate.

As more and more companies use some sort of social media background check, it has become increasingly important to own what your presence is on the web – you need to take control of your personal brand. These are the first five steps to take:

1)    Define your personal brand – what do you want to represent?

2)    Google yourself and figure out how far from your personal brand you are – document what you find, and your ranking in the page. Identify possible issues – somebody with the same name a rapist? A convict? A novel laurate?

3)    Visit your Facebook page as a friend – what does it show? What are your security options? Are there photos of you drinking? Doing something stupid?

4)    Take control of your name:

a.    Buy your domain name (if available) and establish a web presence for your brand.

b.    If you haven’t. Create appropriate profiles in all relevant social networks: Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Plaxo, etc.

c.    Register in all appropriate professional associations.

5)    Update or establish your online presence

a.    Update all social networks with relevant information (remove everything that doesn’t fit your brand)

b.    Start a professional blog  - keep it updated

c.    Visit professional forums and blogs and leave opinions and tips, be sure to add value to the conversation – use your real name for all professional forums (nobody knows who dirk117 is)
After a few weeks of this, google yourself again and check if you ranking or your presence have improved… keep at it. It takes time to build the online presence that you want.

BTW, let me know what you find about yourselves.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Avoid the Startup Trap

Working in startups can be fun and engaging (when they are succeeding) or can be overwhelming and depressing (when they are failing).  As team members, we invest our lives in the companies we work for (and sometimes they even deserve it) – nowhere this is more true than in startups. Sometimes, in large companies we can coast on the inertia of the company and hide in the employee herd, as long as we don’t stand out we will be fine. But in a startup, every character flaw in our business makeup is exposed to the team, every bad decision is apparent to everyone and any cracks in your armor are plainly visible (think small town hell).  Avoid dreams of working in a startup if:
  1. You hate motivating yourself – in a startup you have to drive as much as being driven. There won’t be long strategy sessions or project management meetings or detailed job descriptions. This is do or die.
  2. You dislike confrontation – if you dislike having to defend your ideas or expose them to criticism (often without warning), a startup is not a place for you.
  3. You hate arriving early and leaving late – very often, startups are a collection of teams of one. When there is only you to rely on, expecting to keep a 9 to 5 is unrealistic.
  4. You hate having savings – startups can be easy on, easy off. That is, teammates may change faster than you can say Constantinople. In startups, company pockets may not be big enough to let you go with a nice parting bonus.
  5. You hate open spaces and sharing your browsing history – a lot of startups are open floor, open desk and visible screens all the time (it is cheaper that way). So if you like to read CNN for 45 minutes after you arrive, it will get uncomfortable fast.
  6. You expect a large payout – two issues here
    • The days when every employee got nice stock options are gone. You may get some, but never enough (unless you are close to the founders)
    • Most startups fail… enough said.
By now, you should have a very good idea of whether you can work in a startup. If it is not your cup of tea, by all means remain in corporate America (not a bad option by the way).

Friday, August 23, 2013

The mobile financial services space is exploding

A good indicator for an industry is the number of job it requires to fill. In recent years the mobile financial services space has seen tremendous growth as you can see from the increase in the number of job postings with the words mobile financial services. From we can see an amazingly good upward trend.

mobile financial services Job Trends graph

This is good news for the financially underserved as they will certainly benefit from some well thought out services. MFS companies have their work cut out for them as they are creating a new space and as usual a lot of them will choose the wrong business model. Some of the biggest concerns for these type of services are:
  • Legislation - In LATAM countries like Peru are issuing a whole new set of regulations regarding emoney and the type of companies that can provide services. In others, like Argentina, this is a grey area and in others there is no regulation.
  • Adoption - making services that people use is difficult. Earning the trust of the consumer, being user friendly- and fast- enough to be practical. Having the right product mix, etc. etc.
  • Competitors - everybody and their uncle is getting in on the action. Although, the primary entrants are the incumbent financial industry and the MNOs legislation may open the door to new entrants (like in Peru where MNOs are by law required to open their USSD channels).
  • Competing technologies - USSD, SMS, apps, email. There are plenty of technologies to choose from and not a single one is a clear winner.
  • Price - this one seems like an easy one, but remember that you are competing with cash so the price of the primary competitor is zero. Pricing a P2P under these conditions is hard. At the end of the day somebody has to pay for the service (infrastructure, commissions, etc.)
In any case, this is an interesting time to be in this space and the company that gather momentum and volume (like MPesa in Kenia) can reap the benefits or dominating this market.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What to do with self-sabotaging people – part 2

What to do with self-sabotaging people? How do you coach/deal with them? In my previous post (here) I explained that self-sabotaging people are basically stuck and not moving forward. They seem incapable of doing what needs to be done.  Can you coach/manage someone like this? The answer is yes, if they are willing and, specially, if you are willing to put the effort required to unstuck them.

One thing first, if you can avoid the relationship altogether is a better course of action. Wasting time on somebody who is doing their earnest to destroy their lives is a bad bet.  Remember that these people are masters are sucking up time and energy, so be wary of their games. But in the case that you won’t or can’t avoid it, then this are the actions that may help you:
  • Determine what you want to accomplish: are you there to save a career, save a buddy or just make someone more productive?  Your efforts should focus on that and not on solving everything.
  • Recognize that you cannot change anything yourself, they need to do their own work.
  • Be very clear about the boundaries in the relationship – define what you will do, what you won’t do and what you expect them to do, and even how to do it – did I mentioned that this requires a lot of time?
  • Set clear goals, but focus on the short term. Giving them too many long term goals will cause them to procrastinate. Don’t give them that chance – keep it short and sweet.
  • Set meeting guidelines. Your door should be open but be wary of too many unscheduled meetings or emergencies. Keep track of the time you are spending.
  • Make sure they are doing their work and making their own choices. It is too easy to fall into the “I-can-solve-anything” mode. You are there to guide and mentor, not do their job.

One last thing, even if you do all of the above perfectly, there is a big chance that they will not respond or, despite what they say, perform what was agreed. So, be ready to drop them if that happens.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Improve your productivity with co-working

It has been five months since I started using a coworking space at Buro Miami: Urban Workspaces so I wanted to give you an update. It definitely has been an very positive experience. I will give you my appreciation of the good, the (not-so) bad and my final thoughts.

The good

  • The place is always clean and the environment nice and friendly.
  • Lots of energy and people taking care of business - it motivates you.
  • Environment/decor is great for bringing clients to your office - plan ahead if you need to reserve a meeting room.
  • The people around you are, for the most part, quiet and respectful of your space and will generally walk away to an empty space to have phone conversations - I do the same thing. 
  • The dress code depends on you and your aim for the day so it ranges from fully relaxed (short and a t-shirt) to business formal. 
  • Full service office: copier, fax, mail room, receptionist, etc. 
  • Many additional services/benefits: discount card to local businesses, sandwich service to the office, Spanish lessons...
  • For me, it is a tax-deductible expense (check your tax laws).
The (not-so) bad
  • Parking is not in the building so you have to walk (a block tops). It is only a problem if it rains.
Final Thoughts
For me, the thing that sealed the deal is that my productivity skyrockets when I am there (as compared to my home-office) because I get into full work mode. As you can tell, I like everything about the place. I would recommend anyone working from home to give co-working a try.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Helping a partner regain their performance edge.

An under-performing partner or coworker can bring down the performance of a division or the whole company – this may in turn, affect our end-of-year bonus, profit share or work environment. So, rather than saying that it is her or his problem and letting them be, sometimes it is in our best interest to help the under-achiever.
Recently I was working in a venture with a person that was under-performing and it was bringing the whole partnership productivity down. We were both responsible for parts of the venture that were complementary but mutually exclusive. My problem was how to help her achieve the desired performance without destroying the partnership by being invasive and controlling. The reasons for my decision to help were:
  • It seemed fixable (no drug use, alcohol or any of the sorts). 
  • Her past performance indicated that she was capable of much more than she was delivering. 
  • Dissolving the partnership would have been a complicated and messy affair – and not good for both our reputations. 
My plan was to approach this person and state the problem and my intentions in a clear and respectful manner. I set up an appointment to discuss the situation in a non threatening environment and out of the office. During the conversation I setup myself as a supporter and ally and not a fixer – this is important! You are there to help not do their job (unless it is a problem in your area). At the end of the meeting we established an agreement that we would work on the problems and setup a general plan. Keep it simple.
Over the next few days, we clearly identified the problems, their causes and devised plans to fix and correct each one of them, as well as establishing indicators and goals for each one of them (you have to know when you are done). We identified everything that may be affecting her performance, from rebellious employees to over-dependent clients, and put a plan in place to correct them.
Over time, we tracked our plans and made corrections, while keeping our eyes in our indicators and goals. As problems started to disappear her productivity went back to what was expected and we developed a better working relationship.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Business opportunities: gut vs. numbers

Recently I have been interacting with small to medium-size business owners to discuss the topic of business opportunities whether it is an expansion of their current business or an evaluation of parallel income opportunities (like diversification). Our discussion usually starts with the business objectives and their assessment of the opportunity, I noticed that all of them, without fail, are using back of the envelope calculations, and nothing more, to evaluate their opportunity. No a single cash flow spreadsheet was used, the due diligence was a personal visit with the other company (to meet the owners, partners, etc).

This way of doing business clashes to some degree to what you see in business schools - where there is no investment without a lot of due diligence. We can learn from these successful people and use our gut to make business decisions. In our big corporations by having some degree of freedom in what bets we allow our trusted employees to place.

Like in everything, there is a threshold to the amount of money you can trust to your gut. If the amount is large enough, use the tools that MBAs, M&A people, investment bankers, VC have always used to evaluate business decisions. The amount should depend in your company's cash flow and in its risk culture.