Years ago, I used to work with my oldest brother. He was the general manger of our real estate development company, and I was our project manager. We no longer work together on a daily basis, but we’re still partners in a couple of ventures. I learned a lot about leadership while working with him, and still do to this day.
One of my earliest lessons came when I brought my brother a problem that I was struggling with, seeking his input on what we should do. I can’t remember what the problem was, but I clearly remember his answer. He said,
Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions.
He was essentially asking me to come to him with a solution already in mind for whatever problem it was that we faced. He would gladly offer input on my proposed course of action, but to come to him before formulating anything was lazy. He was right!
Saul Bellow put it a little more pessimistically when he wrote,
When we ask for advice, we are usually looking for an accomplice.
I was reminded of both my brother’s and Bellow’s sayings when I overheard a member of our leadership team, in response to a request for direction, asking,
What do you think we should do?
What a wonderful question! It carries all the intent of the “Bring me solutions” directive, with none of the pessimism of Bellow’s accomplice theory, and with all the optimistic empowerment that I like to see in our company culture.
On a related note, here’s a great story about empowering leadership and empowered heroes.
Way back in 1992, I didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom in Alabama’s, “I’m in a hurry [and don't know why].”
I rediscovered the song a few days ago, and really listened to the lyrics. Man! Those boys from Fort Payne were on to something.
Our culture glamorizes urgency. I recently saw About Time, a wonderful film about a man who can travel back in time and relive moments. The movie is sort of like an inverted take on Groundhog Day, but rather than being forced to relive the same day, he can choose to relive any moment at any time (with some important limitations). And like that Bill Murray classic, the protagonist in About Time uses his situation to become a better person – particularly a better friend, son, brother, father, and husband.
But even our super-gifted hero – who can go back in time as often as he wants – happily and frenetically rushes through breakfast with his family as if the world will end if he doesn’t get everyone out the door by 7:30!
Why would he do that? This glamorization of urgency is starting to feel to me like a grand conspiracy.
Think about every morning scene from every movie or TV show that features a family at home: The alarm rattles mom and dad awake, people hop down the stairs pushing a leg into their pants, toast explodes from toasters, orange juices spills across tables, dogs bark, people run out the door with a piece of bacon dangling from their mouths. Everyone off to catch the bus, beat the bell, make the train, or whatever. Everyone off trying to live their lives according to some arbitrary schedule set by no one that everyone follows because that’s what everyone else does.
Can’t be late
I leave in plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock
I can’t stop
I’m on a roll and I’m ready to rock.
I’m in a hurry to get things done
I rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.
I hear a voice
That says I’m running behind
I better pick up my pace
It’s a race
And there ain’t no room
For someone in second place.
And all the while, everyone is smiling the sort of smile that conveys a sense of pride in their urgency. It’s like they’re trying to convince us (and themselves) that, “I am hurrying because I have an important place in society. Other people need me to do things that are more important to me than being present here with these people.”
The ideal condition, it would seem, is frenetic urgency in service to an arbitrary time keeper. But why?
Entrepreneurship isn’t selling things – it’s finding innovative ways to improve people’s lives http://t.co/qMsDBLJqjO
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) November 14, 2013
Through your work, do you improve people’s lives?
Successful entrepreneurs are a wonderful sort of people: They create sustainable businesses that provide great places for wonderful people to earn a living for themselves and their loving families. They create and sell products, services, and experiences that people need or want. They care for their customers with a sense of gratefulness and humility, knowing that without them, none of it could exist.
These sorts of entrepreneurs are masters of the craft, and there isn’t a whole lot farther they can go. But if there is another level to reach, I’d call aspirational entrepreneurialism.
The aspirational entrepreneur does all that the successful entrepreneur does, plus something special: the company’s output improves people’s lives.
As our businesses grow, let’s remember that it’s not about selling more things, faster. We can, of course, do just that, and inso doing we can create a good place to work, give customers what they want at a price they can afford, and make some real money along the way. But if we aspire to something more – if we accept the challenge to improve people’s lives through our work – then we won’t have to wait until we sell the business to begin our philanthropic journey, because we’ll have been doing that very thing every day for as long as we’ve been on the entrepreneurial journey.
I am just fine losing the Braves Stadium to Cobb County. Stadiums are questionable investments in the best of circumstances, and even if you can wrench something positive from them, you’re still stuck with a giant empty parking lot sitting on land with which you could confidently earn a considerably higher return.
The above image shows the location of Turner Field at the same scale as significant parts of Little Five Points, Virginia Highland, Buckhead Village, and Midtown. I threw Venice in there to get people really thinking about all the options. To paint the picture more clearly, the stadium and all its parking would take up a space in Midtown as tall as from 8th Street to 15th Street and as wide as West Peachtree to Juniper.
If you’re trying to build a thriving, durable, and vibrant city, always choose urbanism over a vast, single-use, and mostly vacant ego structure.
A channel partner is an organization or individual that helps you grow by introducing you to prospective customers.
Sometimes channel partners are resellers whom you pay when their customers buy your product. Often, those resellers will also take on support, billing, and collection responsibilities for the customers they bring your way. Sometimes, the relationship is more arms-length, and the partner does little more than make an introduction. In those cases, you might pay the partner a one-time fee for each new customer they refer to you. Often, no money exchanges hands (this is how most of my company’s partnerships are). In cases where there are no fees for referrals, it’s probably a two way street, and you’re also going to be referring business to your partner, providing them with some other services, offering preferred services or pricing to their customers, and/or creating value for them in some other way.
At GuildQuality, around half of our new business comes from a diverse group of dozens of channel partners (I referenced some of those in a post about our beach heads). Our partners include consultants, building product manufacturers, trade associations, industry publications, and other software companies that serve our same market. Some are small, and send us only a handful of very high quality companies each year. Others send us far more, and the quality is spottier. Despite their differences, our very best channel partners share a handful of common traits that make us great allies for each other:
- Relevance. We have non-competing offerings and a significant overlap in our target markets. A meaningful percentage of their customers (greater than 25%) are the profile of company who would be interested in GuildQuality, and vice versa.
- Understanding. We each clearly understand what the other does, how we create value for our customers, and how we can create value for each other.
- Communication. We have a healthy dialog, and connect on a regular basis to make sure our relationship is mutually rewarding. This usually entails us sharing what our “picture of success” looks like. Perhaps that’s 50 new customers over the next year, or maybe its 100 inbound leads that site the partner as a source.
- Commitment. We share an understanding of co-marketing expectations, and we each execute on our commitments, i.e. We’re going to provide some compelling content for the partner to use in six of their newsletters; They’re going to promote our free trial to all of their customers three times a year, etc. Whatever the commitments are, we outline them in some sort of agreement at the start of the relationship.
- Empowerment. Our primary point person is empowered to get things done. This is sometimes an issue when our partner is a larger organization or association, and our point person regularly needs to seek approval from others in order to make commitments or initiate campaigns.
When I reflect on the common characteristics among of our great partnerships, those are the five things that come to mind. What do you look for when finding new partners to help you build your business?
I recently received a survey from Entrepreneurs Organization, asking me to indicate my level of agreement (from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree) with a number of statements about courage in business:
Courage is taking meaningful action deliberately after careful consideration of the risk involved.
Courage involves taking an action that is for the greater good, despite short-term adverse consequences.Courage is the ability to seize opportunities, even when fearful of the future.
None of these statements quite nailed it for me. To me, courage is the strength one needs to make a moral decision in the face of adversity. I tell my children that courage is doing the right thing even when it scares you.
Investing in new products or services is risky, but not courageous. Expanding a sales and marketing team is risky but not courageous. Modifying pricing that seems to work just fine as-is is risky but not courageous. In business, we do lots of things to increase the prospect for greater future gain by sacrificing the certainty of significant near term stability. This is the essence of risk.
Courageous business actions include things that a leader deems to be the morally right thing to do, but that could jeopardize near- or long-term profits. Some actions that strike me as courageous:
- Speaking openly about your values in the hopes of positively influencing your customers and employees, despite the risk of alienating those who don’t agree with you.
- Trusting employees to do the right thing, knowing that that means some will occasionally abuse that trust or make mistakes.
- Telling your employees, when you really need them to focus on executing, that you only have a few months of cash left.
- Refusing to work with a customer or partner that could bring you game-changing income but requires that you compromise your values.
What are some of the most courageous business actions that you’ve come across?
- looking for more than 5,000sf;
- comfortable paying top-dollar rent;
- interested in making a move in Q4 2014 or Q1 2015;
- seeking an in-town, walkable, vibrant location,
then you should definitely check it out. As we think about the next home for GuildQuality, here are some of the things we put in the “Pros” column:
- Showers/lockers on every floor (great for bike commuters and runners);
- Bike valet;
- Shuttle to the North Ave Marta station every fifteen minutes;
- Great coffee shop (Dancing Goats);
- Lots of existing restaurant options (Chipotle, Whole Foods, Eats!, Cameli’s), and plenty more to come within PCM;
- Lots of outdoor space;
- Great natural light;
- Adjacent to the Beltline;
- Accessible rooftop with impressive views.
Here are some of our “Cons”:
- It’s a ways from either Marta or the highway, so we’d be adding 15 to 30 minutes of daily commuting time for our non-intown team members who come into the office every day.
- It’s expensive.
Almost anything would have been an improvement over the decaying void that was City Hall East. Even so, Jamestown & Green Street (the developers) look to be doing exceptional work with the site. Touring their progress really makes you appreciate how amazing Atlantic Station could have been in the hands of a well-capitalized developer who understood urbanism and place-making, and who valued design and execution.
As great a job as I think they’re doing, and as strong a potential fit as this is for my business, I would love to see more options for smaller tenants. At present, they are heavily favoring very large offices, and have no offering at all for businesses that want fewer than 5,000 square feet. I can understand the economics of this strategy, but I’ll single out PCM for criticism here specifically because they are projecting a vibe of vibrancy and diversity.
Why target smaller tenants?
- The market is there. As David Cummings and his team have demonstrated with Atlanta Tech Village, there’s clearly a market for small office spaces. And if you’ve ever searched for 500sf to 3,000sf, then you absolutely appreciate how few great options you have.
- They’ll end up with a very low crazy-person density. The overwhelming majority of their office space will be occupied by tenants with over 50,000 sf. That means their ratio of crazy people (i.e. independent creatives, startups, freelancers, micropreneurs, and entrepreneurs) to normal people will be very low. All innovation occurs on the fringe, and Ponce City Market could be stronger, and add more to Atlanta, with a significant contingent of small offices.
With the ATV, David has started filling a great void in Atlanta and created something very special for our technology community. But there’s still huge holes left out there for those who 1) don’t want to commute to Buckhead, 2) aren’t in software, and 3) are looking for less than 5,000sf.
There are institutionalized impediments to someone filling those holes: Buildings are bought, sold, and financed and brokers are paid based on the lengths and sizes of their leases. Fewer, bigger, and longer is better. As a business owner who sees it as a virtue to have no single customer representing greater than 2% of our recurring revenue, I have trouble wrapping my head around this tendency toward fragile dependence on only a handful of tenants. Nevertheless, that’s my understanding of how commercial real estate finance works.
I’d love to see the PCM developers carve out 100,000sf for small businesses and independents looking for either a coworking space, or dedicated offices that are under 3,000sf. I think it makes great business sense and would also add tremendously to the vitality of the place. They clearly see this with the retail tenants they’re recruiting, and I’d like to see them extend this strategy to their offices.
Update: In the “Pro” list, I neglected to add that PCM is an “Opportunity Zone,” which can bring significant tax credits to growing businesses who lease there. Of course, with only larger businesses being eligible to lease at PCM, this amounts to yet another institutionalized advantage that big businesses have over small companies.
I have searched for these sorts of studies and been unable to find anything. If anyone knows anyone who might help me uncover these answers, please let me know:
1) Is there a correlation between starting your career with a large business vs a small business and ultimately going on to start your own business?
2) Are people who start their own companies after working at small businesses more or less likely to achieve success than those who start their own companies after working at large businesses?
3) Are software companies started by software developers more likely to be in business in ten years than those started by non-technical founders?
4) Are companies started by MBAs more likely to be in business after ten years than those started by non-MBAs?
5) Are companies started by 18 year olds more likely to be in business after ten years than those started by 50 year olds?
Here in the United States, we make some pretty aggressive infrastructure expenditures (I won’t call them investments, as that suggests there is some desired ROI for the investor) that road contractors, lobbyists, and politicians argue we will need in the future.
One extreme example: at this very moment, we are widening little two lane roads into six lane highways in hundreds of towns with declining populations. I’m in one such little town right now. It has lost 5% of its population in the last ten years, and everywhere I go, I’m driving through road construction sites (obviously, there’s no walking option – I just drove 0.6 miles to the Food Lion to pick up some strawberries). Unless you are profiting from this expenditure, I can’t imagine any rational argument in support of it.
All the crazy market interventions we do here in the United States (from the mortgage interest tax deduction to our highway construction) accelerate exurban development and debt accumulation. But we’re playing in the minor leagues. The Chinese really know how to do it.
Their government is developing hundreds of cities in order to urbanize the nation.
The damage (both health and environmental) resulting from the waste associated with that pace of industrialization is devastating. China just closed a city of 11 million because it’s smog index climbed over 1,000. The WHO considers 300 hazardous, and “recommends” under 20. For comparison, Atlanta’s smog index is presently at 13. NYC, with a population of 8 million, has a smog index of 41. And all the pollution they’re seeing today is just the tip of the iceberg.
This morning, I was wondering how that sort of thing might happen. I suspect that if there was only a single real estate holding company in the entire United States, if it had an army, and if it subcontracted its development to fee developers who controlled our politicians, this is exactly what would be happening.
Imagine if D. R. Horton, the largest homebuilder in America, had an army and could force people to buy its homes. That’s what’s happening in China.