Now is a special time in DC. Let’s try to look past the diabolical weather for a moment and consider all the fun that we can actually have here. In the past decade we have seen a massive transformation. Like so many capitals around the world, DC was a bit stuffy, a little uptight, and in many ways, kind of a drag. One can almost picture long–faced bureaucrats lugubriously scampering along K Street trying to make it to a meeting. But things have changed in the recent years. We have become a magnet for young professionals and creative people who aren’t simply here to fulfill a contract, but rather ply their trades and create waves all over the country. With this new influx, we have developed an entertainment industry to cater to them. Just take a short walk on U Street and see for yourself how much things have changed. In this issue, we have attempted to shed some light on this transformation and have chosen a few spots that we feel best represent what this sudden and delightful shift is all about.
We also sat down with Jonathon Perrelli and Carla Valdes at Fortify.vc, who shed some light on their concept of “Founders Funding Founders,” as well as Kevin Greene of Vallhala Partners. Michael Grass of Huffington Post also joined us for a frank discussion about the possibilities awaiting our fair city.
With so much going on around us, it can be rather difficult to get a full grasp of it all. I hope that this issue can serve as a reference guide to what’s hot right now in our city during these dog days of summer. We hope that you can enjoy and experience all that our nation’s capital has to offer.
Best Restaurants in Metro DC
Raising Capital for Your Startup
Luxury Hotels in DC
A Beginner’s Guide to Ireland
Preparing For Retirement
Utilizing Your Network
Metro DC Area Business Caterers
The country has seen better days. This much is undeniable. We sometimes forget that the decisions being made (and stubbornly not being made) by national leaders in our fair city, have far-reaching effects. We have been, happily, somewhat insulated from the lack of cooperation on the Hill, but for how long? As we ponder this question, millions remain unemployed across the nation, and our political system remains in gridlock over even the minutest details of governance. If we continue on our projected path, even those of us living in the nation’s capital and its surrounding suburbs will feel the pinch.
In this issue we bring to you a few people who know well how to iron out complicated deals and understand the importance of reaching one’s goals through careful analysis and cooperation. We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Robert Barnett of Williams & Connolly LLP, the legendary lawyer who has represented some of Washington’s most elite names, Mike Lincoln of Cooley LLP on the art of the deal, and David Saltzman of Saltzman and Evinch P.C. on his experiences representing the interests of the Republic of Turkey in Washington.
These deal makers and master negotiators can offer more than a few pieces of advice for our gridlocked leaders on the Hill. One can only hope that they would have the wherewithal and the wisdom to listen. I’m not holding my breath.
Our latest issue of MB includes:
Alternative Investment Vehicles
Art & The Good Life
Art & Science
Business Golf 201
Social Media Jobs
The Future is Electric
Jesse Thomas, Founder and CEO of Jess3
Don Rainey, Venture Capitalist
Robert Barnett, Attorney
Mike Lincoln, Corporate Attorney
David Saltzman, International Lawyer
Founder and Chairman of Sun Design, Craig Durosko and President Bob Gallagher
We spent Friday the 13th at Capital Connection ’11 and it was a powerful experience. First, the startups that presented are this year’s cream of the crop. A number of very interesting companies have a real shot at long-term success. Second, by their very nature, entrepreneurs tend to be an extremely optimistic group. Finally, the venture capitalists and service providers that attend Capital Connection are among the most respected in their industries.
But for me, the most powerful part of the day came through a personal revelation. As I observed these high caliber people present their stories and interact with the crowd, I saw a microcultural effect that I’ve never understood before. My epiphany may give you food for thought.
When we think of culture, we tend to think in broad strokes: American, Latino, Indian… Our use of language and the way we express ourselves establish the foundation for how the rest of the world perceives us. Growing up we model those around us. The impact of regional mores, dialect, and communication style learned early stay with us the rest of our lives. If the people we’re speaking with don’t understand our microculture, something is lost in translation.
When it comes to effective communications, others’ perceptions are as important as our own. On Friday I watched first-hand how the microcultural effect layers over one’s ethnicity to impact how others perceive us on a very personal level. And this is where it gets interesting.
To keep things simple, I’ll use myself as the example. A predominantly Scandinavian heritage combined with a very conservative upbringing in both Seattle and the Midwest establish a naturally stoic public persona and a private persona that has a bit of an edge. To the casual observer, nothing appears to ruffle the people from my personal microculture.
Case and point, one particular nuance caused a lot of trouble about 20 years ago. As a new manager I got in over my head one night at work. I called my boss for help. It was his night off and he didn’t come in. But, the next day he gave me a royal reaming because the store had performed abominably. My defense? “I called you when I needed you.” His response, “I couldn’t tell you were in trouble. Your tone of voice gave no indication of how bad things really were.”
Yup. Stoic Midwesterners flatline when it comes to communication. (Watch the movie Fargo and you’ll see exactly what I mean.) We can’t help it. When we’re together, we understand the subtext and have no issues reading between the lines and understanding each other.
Wait. There actually is no need to read between the lines. If we say it, we mean it. That style is very different from the rest of the country. Remove us from our natural habitat and people can’t see the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Even after 20 years I still sound stiff on the phone to ‘outsiders.’ When speaking face-to-face with people from other geographies I have to concentrate on assessing body language so I can read between their lines.
Living in a culturally rich locale means that all of us need to think about the face we present to the outside world. How will others perceive you in a way that enables you to be most successful?
It will differ from situation to situation and from group to group. A lot of times effective communication will mean that you have to go outside of your comfort zone and do a little bit of ‘acting.’ The trick is to remain authentic as you learn to match your delivery to the audience. After all, the people in your audience are viewing you through their own microcultures.
Vijay Ravindran graduated with a B.S. degree in systems engineering from The University of Virginia in 1996. After a seven-year stint with Amazon in Seattle, he eventually returned to Virginia to work as Chief Technology Officer for Catalist LLC, a successful start up political technology company. In February of 2009, Ravindran joined The Washington Post Company as their first ever Chief Digital Officer (CDO). Modern DC Business recently interviewed Ravindran, who resides with his wife and son in Chevy Chase, MD about his past, present and future.
Vijay, the title of Chief Digital Officer is a fairly new term. Help us understand what it means. What exactly does a CDO do?
VR: I think the title and job responsibilities vary quite a bit from organization to organization. Here at The Washington Post Company, we’ve focused my job on the rapidly changing online media space and what we as a company can be doing to look at what’s around the corner. I wear several hats: I work closely as an advisor to our media properties, mainly washingtonpost.com and Slate, I look at opportunities for us to make investments in promising tech start ups as well as incubate new business ideas like SocialCode, our Facebook advertising agency, and I’ve built a team called WaPo Labs that works on experimental products that might one day make up part of a future online news experience. Unlike some of my counterparts in the industry, I do not operate any of our existing mature websites, as our corporate belief is that the operating unit CEOs are best positioned to also be the operators of their web and mobile presences.
One of your primary responsibilities these days is working on the launch of Trove, a free news aggregation website from the Washington Post. How different will Trove be from the enormously successful Huffington Post? The website’s recent acquisition by AOL is a clear indication that it performs its job exceedingly well. Why does the world need another news aggregator?
VR: We think Trove will be different than anything else out there. Trove is focused on personalization, and enabling users to easily build a custom news experience built across the many interest areas they might be passionate about from personal to professional, celebrity gossip to serious world affairs.
Considering the difficulty of publishing print media in this day and age, how do you and The Washington Post Company plan to make news profitable again?
VR: We are as an industry in a grand experimentation stage for news, we know that our legacy businesses are under great threat, and that we have to not only build an engaging consumer experience, but also a viable business model that can support the business of journalism as we go through this evolution. And our position at The Washington Post Company is to be a leader in the industry. That’s why we’re investing in Trove, incubating SocialCode, and just recently partnered with the New York Times and Gannett as investors in Ongo.
How do you respond to the claim that ‘print is dead?’
VR: My wife and I continue to enjoy our paper, so I don’t buy into that. There’s no question that there is a generation rising of potential consumers that are not going to find the printed paper as useful as previous generations. But we’re going to be putting out a print product for a long time to come. We firmly believe that consumers will value high quality journalism in some form in the future, and our job is develop the right product for them.
Trove’s primary goal for the Washington Post Co. seems to focus on generating an audience, with revenue concerns coming in as a secondary goal. This strategy seems to carry the motto,“If we build it, they will come,”(with revenue following shortly after). This differs greatly from Rupert Murdoch’s more traditional approach to content, audience and revenue generation. Do you think this new approach will be the golden standard in digital media?
VR: We’re heavily influenced by the success stories of the past few years. My boss, Don Graham, is on the Board of Facebook, and we think a viable business model can be developed if we truly have a differentiated product that attracts a loyal and substantive audience. So that’s what we’re aiming for.
What are the secrets to building a great online community for digital content?
VR: I hardly consider these secrets, here are 3 things I aim for: 1) Focus on a great first experience that rewards the community with something they can’t find anywhere else. 2) Recognize and reward those who actively contribute. 3) Develop a cycle that allows those contributions to enhance the experience for new first time and ongoing passive members of the community. It sounds simple, but it is quite hard to develop something that achieves these three things. Amazon customer reviews are something that heavily influenced my thinking here since I got to see its evolution (though I never directly worked on these systems at Amazon). If you look at Amazon reviews, they followed the above principles. The reviews helped first time visitors and passive ongoing visitors in a meaningful way. The Amazon site rewarded those who contributed reviews into the system by highlighting them, ranking them, and over time for the best reviewers, engaging them on first looks at products. And the more those engaged reviewers interacted with Amazon, the better than Amazon site became for everyone involved.
Following graduation, you began working for companies on the cutting edge of innovation and technology, such as American Management Systems, Amazon and Catalist. How is working for an established business like The Washington Post Company different from your past experiences?
VR: Each experience I’ve had is unique. At American Management Systems (AMS), I worked at an extremely forward looking consulting firm, and worked on developing customer care and billing systems for European telcos using technologies that had not been used before in those spaces. Experience with those technologies got my foot in the door at Amazon in 1998. At Amazon, the business’s rapid explosive growth forced every nook and cranny of the business to require technology in new and innovative ways from how to do customer service to running the largest e-commerce website. Catalist was probably more similar to AMS, in that more than anything, we brought modern technology to an industry (political campaigns) that had not fully realized what was possible. I’d say working at The Washington Post Company is a combination of both types of experiences. There are certainly aspects of online news media where simply taking smart uses of technology already in place in other industries (like e-commerce) can vastly improve the business. In other ways, what’s needed for the online news industry is a sea change, and true innovation is needed to get the type of customer engagement and advertising value to support the business model of the future. The biggest difference is the impact of the print business to the bottom line. That’s why Don and I think it is best to place my team and I outside the operating unit of the Washington Post.
What do you consider the most exciting aspect of your current responsibilities?
VR: I am always excited to build. I’ve built a great team and we’re extremely excited to show the world Trove, and rapidly iterate the Trove experience. I’m also very excited by SocialCode, our Facebook advertisng agency that we think is developing some incredible capability for advertisers. Meanwhile, the interactions with the journalists at the Post and Slate are really special for me. I’ve always had enormous respect for the Post since living in Charlottesville and getting the Post while I attended UVA, and to be able to now talk to the very folks I read voraciously while working on the campaign trail is just a huge treat.
You have spent most of your life in small college towns – first Norman, Oklahoma, (home of The Sooners) and then on to Charlottesville, Virginia, where you attended UVA. Do you miss the small town college life or do you find yourself better suited for a bigger city like Washington DC?
VR: That’s a tough question. I had a life changing experience when I was at American Management Systems and was shipped out to Dusseldorf Germany for 6 months. Though not the biggest or most exciting city in Germany, I had my first real experience with urban living. That’s heavily influenced me since. I feel very strongly that I am happiest in a place with good public transit, and a lot of walkability. Throughout our 7 years in Seattle, we had that. When we moved to D.C. 5 years ago, we moved to DuPont Circle and enjoyed living in the middle of everything. With the birth of our son, we decided we needed more space, so we’re in Chevy Chase MD, but still in walking distance to the Metro, groceries, restaurants and coffee shops.
Is the Metro DC area a good place to start technology companies? Please explain why or why not?
VR: There are pros and cons from my experiences these past 5 years, and I am mainly contrasting it to building a great team while at Amazon. We have great universities near by that produce excellent computer scientists who are the lifeblood of a new technology company. However I find that culturally, there’s such an emphasis on government consulting and contracting that it is a little harder to find the type of start up mindset that you look for when making those first few critical hires needed to launch an idea. At the size of team I lead here, it is not such a problem, since I’ve been able to use my extended network to find great people. But if I needed to hire at the volume I hired at Amazon, I think this area would be challenging to hire culture fits. That being said, DC is extremely attractive to people looking to move when considering spousal opportunities, and great schools for kids. So it is a mixed bag.
I know that you don’t like to plan out your career and have let faith guide you, but what’s next for you? Have you considered a career in politics?
VR: I am definitely firmly focused on how to best help The Washington Post Company. We have huge challenges in front of us as a company, and a mission that is meaningful to me. As for politics, working behind the scenes of campaigns while at Catalist definitely got most of that bug out of my system. I have enormous respect for people who choose a career in politics. I’d never say never, but it feels pretty remote.
I get most excited by opportunites where I feel I can make a big difference and that have an underlying social mission that accompanies a commercial one. Right now, the opportunity I have at the Post Company fits perfectly!
May you live in interesting times.” It’s an American maxim often mistaken as a Chinese curse. It is used to imply that the current times we live in are unprecedented and chaotic in nature. Surely, since the great depression no age has been more fraught with insecurity than our own present time. The economic crisis that originated from America’s recent financial meltdown has left the US business landscape in a precarious state, but, it is from this uncertainty that some of our greatest opportunities may arise. At this very moment, China, that rising star in the East, is fertile ground for American businesses to find what they are after.
Unless you have been in a cryogenic slumber since the year 2000, you already know that rapidly growing China is one of the most important markets in the world. But how can an entity located in the Metro DC area benefit from doing business with China? We hope that the following will guide you in understanding the possibilities and opportunities of doing business with the new land of opportunity.
As we see it, there are four possibilities for your business:
Unless you are a large to enterprise–size company with deep pockets that can afford to ride the slow boat of success in China, this is not for you. Many companies as big as Vodafone, Best Buy, Google and Barbie have tried and failed to succeed in mainland China. The only thing that should interest you in this article is the mistakes made by these well–known companies. They all thought that they could take their cookie–cutter business template that worked in the western hemisphere and apply it to China. They were wrong. When doing business in China, one needs to listen rather than talk.
The need to crack open the China market has become a matter of life and death for some companies. Take for instance, Groupon, whose management feels that if they don’t enter the Chinese market now, they will fail to become a global entity and possibly soon face much larger competitors from China.
Getting Your Feet Wet
You are a small to medium size company with a unique service, product or a solution and you would like to learn more about its potential in the fastest growing market in the world. If John B. L. Soule were still alive today, he would no doubt say, “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.” Nothing can educate you better than visiting a place and meeting locals (but of course reading this magazine is a great start). “But how do I go to China?” you might ask. Being located in DC, you are in luck. You can contact the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, which offers affordable ways to visit China. You can pay as little as $2200 for a 9 day trip that includes airfare, food, tours and 4 to 5 star accommodations spanning 4 cities. Trips like these will help you become more comfortable with visiting China and help you identify your opportunities without having to spend large sums of your hard earned money.
Made in China
You had your Eureka moment. You are certain that your product idea is the best thing since the fortune cookie. You just need to find a place where you can affordably manufacture your product. USA’s manufacturing output is 25% of the world and declining whereas China’s is around 35% and growing fast. China’s wages are a fraction of the salaries of U.S. workers even in the high tech field.
Our guess is that you will look for a manufacturer in China for your product. But where can you start? We suggest that you begin with the several free resources available, which include government organizations like The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and The China Chamber of International Commerce. You can also use commercial websites like AliBaba.com which provides you with thousands of options. Once you select several candidates, travel to China and visit the factory floors. Meet the people and make sure that they are who they say they are. Cross check business cards, addresses, phone numbers. In China, “Non-disclosure Agreements” mean very little. Most experts recommend the use of “Terms of Engagement” and an “Authorization to Manufacture” instead. And always ask for references.
The economy is getting much better in the U.S.. Banks are even starting to loan money to businesses once again. But the recent economic crisis left a lasting mark on our nation. There is no shortage of money, but most U.S. companies, including the VCs, are investing abroad. China on the other hand is high on American ingenuity and is investing heavily on U.S. companies. There are Chinese sovereign wealth funds, large financial institutions, large corporations, indigenous investment funds and high-net-worth individuals, each of which is making investments. Many Chinese firms, flush with cash or squeezed by competition, are also casting abroad for new markets, technology and product lines. This year Chinese companies are expected to make more than $5 billion in U.S. direct investment. Being close to DC, you are in luck. You can start your research at the Chinese Embassy. If you can sell the value of your company to them, they will help you attract potential investors to your company. You can also work with The Virginia Economic Development Partnership that also has an office in Hong Kong. The partnership recently worked closely with Governor McDonnell to attract $21.2 million investment to Virginia. Another great resource is the Maryland International Incubator that opened its doors in 2009. Partner companies include Shandong Province Liaison Office which looks to identify businesses in Shandong as candidates to establish operations in the U.S.. Perhaps a direct investment in your company is a viable option for their candidates.
Regardless of what you end up doing, take your time and remember the Chinese proverb “He who hurries cannot walk with dignity.”
Last year, I took a 10-day, 4-city tour to China. I visited the bustling capital city of Beijing, the green tea covered hills of Hangzhou, as well as Suzhou, which is reminiscent of Venice, with its intricate canal system and massive textile factories feeding the ravenous appetites of fashionistas worldwide. On my last stop, I ended up in Shanghai, which can be best described as a city four times the size of Manhattan and on a steady diet of steroids, a true sight for capitalistic sore eyes.
I climbed the Great Wall of China and watched over the highway that leads in and out of Beijing. I witnessed the endless queue of trucks carrying in raw materials and shipping out finished goods to the rest of the world. As I stood watching, I could feel the pulse of the entire country right underneath my feet. This is how the United States must have felt to newcomers at the turn of the last century. With its vibrant and restless population, cities bustling with creative energy and factories pushing out goods twenty-four hours a day, everything must have seemed possible.
In the 1980s the United States transformed its economy from manufacturing to services. We invented the Internet and created companies like UUNET, AOL, Google, Facebook and Twitter to cater to our ever growing online needs. Today, these American companies collect fees and advertising revenues from around the world. Take for instance a German motorist who is trying to go from point A to point B in his own city of Dusseldorf, searching for directions on Google Maps. People around the globe are asking for information about their own cities and communities from Americans working in offices overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Despite the rosy picture above, the ingenuity that we applied to our private enterprises was not always matched with intelligent fiscal prudence and long-term thinking. In the private and banking sectors, we became greedy, short sighted and too smart for our own good. In the public sector, successive administrations squandered tax revenue for multiple wars and new entitlements that were never offset by spending cuts. We relied heavily on foreign loans, and in a few short years, we went from a boom economy, flaunting a resounding budget surplus, to one that is anything but. Luckily America still has the know-how, the talent and the wherewithal to bounce back and lead the way both globally and domestically. This country has hardly given up the ghost just yet, and it’s only a matter of time before we situate ourselves firmly where we belong, in the black.
This brings me back to my trip to China. Both the government of China and the private sector are eager to invest in American private enterprise. Chinese businesses are investing in enterprises as diverse as theater houses, solar energy companies, RV manufacturers, and tech firms. If there is a profit to be made, the Chinese are willing to put up the capital for it. This willingness to invest should be recognized and the opportunity seized by DC businesses.
In this issue we spoke to many experts from the CEO, Chairman of Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent who is also the leader of the DC based US China Business Council, to Harry Weller of NEA on why he is investing in China and how DC companies can attract capital from China to our area. We have an exclusive interview with Deputy Chairman of Capgemini, Paul Spence about his experiences running a worldwide business.
I hope you enjoy the Spring issue of Modern DC Business Magazine. Please join our M Club (an invitation only social club for corporate executives and entrepreneurs) and don’t forget, MB Magazine is mostly about business and all about your business style. Enjoy.
I recently read a Wall Street Journal article “A Digital ‘Magazine’ With One Subscriber” on March 10th, 2011 where Katherine Boehret reviewed two news gathering software for your iPad, Zite and Flipboard. Having been a journalist in the past and an avid reader of news, I decided to download the them to my iPad and try them out.
I currently receive paper copies of Wall Street Journal as well as the Financial Times delivered to my house daily. I also subscribe to numerous magazines such as The Week, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Economist to name a few. Every day, I also read the news on Huffingtonpost.com and two Turkish newspapers Hurriyet.com.tr and Milliyet.com.tr. So I consider myself to be well informed. However, having the subscriptions to so many news outlets is costly as well as time consuming. I like receiving the paper copies of newspapers and magazines because it allows me to cut out interesting articles and save them in my “Red Book of Ideas.” However, I spend 2 hours a day (mostly at night) fast reading the articles.
Reading the Huffington Post has been fun and beneficial, but it has mostly been fun. The news are delivered with a bias towards their point of view and also there is an emphasis of covering life style issues. So how about Zite and Flipboard?
I found Zite to be easy to set up and use. I chose to enter my Facebook and Twitter account information so they can get a sense of my taste in issues (I discovered that my taste on Facebook and Twitter is slightly different than reality). I then selected my sections such as Business and Investing, Entrepreneurship, Food and Cooking, Luxury Lifestyle, Mac, Philosphy and Spirituality, etc. Zite than searched millions of websites and gathered a potpourri of news to display on my iPad monitor. I clicked on news that interest me to read. In order to further laser focus on my interest areas, each news item is displayed with thumbs up or down feature. Over time, Zite learns from my behavior to further customize my news.
Flipboard was also very similar to Zite. It had a better GUI than Zite to display the news. The prominent articles received a larger portion of my monitor’s real estate which made me feel like I was reading a real magazine. I guess the comparison of Zite to Flipboard would be best described as New Yorker to Atlantic in terms of look and feel. They are both fantastic magazines and you should select the one that appeals to you the most.
We live in Washington DC and Washington Post is really our local newspaper. They are also working on their version of a news gathering site and application. It will be released soon and I will update you when it is available.
Strategic alliance relationships are supposed to follow the 1+1=3 formula. You are supposed to combine and align your expertise, solutions and contacts with one or more companies to achieve greater business results than you can on your own. This sounds good in theory, but as you may have heard before, “Results may vary from company to company and there are no guarantees with alliance relationships. Side effects may include headache, nausea, heartburn…” But we all want increased predictability in our businesses and there are 10 steps that we can follow for better outcomes in our alliance relationship efforts. The following steps should apply to you whether you are a small business entrepreneur or a corporate executive.
Don’t have a shotgun approach to building alliances. Just like you would be selective when hiring someone, you should equally be careful about starting alliances with other companies. Diligently research your alliance partner candidates and slowly get to know them to make sure you have the same business goals, virtues, style and culture. For example an Annapolis startup that I am familiar with found a partner that was already an approved Federal government contractor. This allowed them to sell their software through this channel immediately which significantly reduced the time it would be needed for them to become an approved Federal contractor.
Patience is a virtue.
The definition of this saying is to tolerate delay. This implies self control and forbearance as opposed to wanting what we want when we want it. Alliance relationships will require time to develop trust, understanding and alignment between the two companies. You will need to spend quality time together (action oriented meetings) and diligently follow up on what was discussed. Showing that you deliver what you promised will go a long way in building trust with your partners.
Set out to support your business objectives.
Before you select partners as well as during your alliance relationship, keep your business objectives at the forefront of your actions. This may mean growing revenues by 15% or acquiring 25 new customers or to penetrating a new region. Regardless of their nature, your new alliances should be designed to support your objectives. Remember that alliances should help you open new doors that you could not otherwise do on your own.
Set realistic goals and strict rules of engagement.
If you are starting a new alliance relationship, know that progress will come slowly and in smaller increments. If one of your objectives is to grow your overall revenues by 15%, perhaps you can set your alliance goal to contribute 1 to 3% of that total. If your goal is to acquire net new customers, then you can set your goal to promote your company to 25 new customers with 2 alliance events. Rules of engagement will become very important when you start to acquire your new customers. Ensure an upfront and clear understanding of follow up procedures and revenue splits to avoid embarrassing litigation later on. Don’t forget that business needs to travel both ways. Often each alliance partner thinks the other will bring them business, leaving each partner wondering where the leads are. This often leads to frustration, dissatisfaction and potential ill will. The partnership must recognize early on the working model of the relationship – establish and agree upon expectations, goals, and measurements.
Bring value to your customers.
Customers are looking to do business with companies that can provide the greatest value to their business needs. Think about customer needs that your company does not directly address and offer combined solutions to meet them with your alliance partners. One good example that I recently noticed was legalzoom.com, a site that specializes in incorporation services and also offers virtual telephone operator solution from one of its partners. Most people who need to form a new company will also need to set up phone services. It makes sense and it brings value to the customers in the form of a “one stop shop.”
Fully incorporate alliances into your sales cycle and align, align, align.
There are two ways to set up alliance partnerships—the right way and the wrong way. The right way is to realize and understand that alliance partnerships are part of every sales cycle regardless of the size of deal and the type products/services involved. The wrong way is to think that your company’s sales cycle is somehow separate and siloed from its alliance efforts. This lack of institutionalization of alliances will ultimately lead to unfulfilled objectives, frustration and failure. Even when we execute the right way, we need to make sure that we are fully aligned with our partners and that we speak the same language to our mutual customers. You don’t want to look like a bunch of amateurs when so called alliance partner’s communicate different messages to mutual clients.
Aim for greater openness.
Much like in your personal relationships, the better you know your alliance partners, the more you will trust them and open up your company’s books. In ideal partnerships, parties involved will invest in each others’ solution development, share sales pipelines and go to market together to address specific sector or customer needs. This will take time, but it is important to keep it as a goal in the back of your mind to guide you as you select you partners and build alliances.
Trust but verify.
This Russian saying was made famous by President Reagan as he worked to develop an alliance relationship with the Soviet Union President Michael Gorbachev. As in any relationship, test your partners’ allegiance before you share too much information with them. Take baby steps in establishing ties and go for few quick wins before investing more into the relationship. Those early wins are important in building confidence on both sides of the fence and they will become your stepping stones as well as references to increased success in the future.
Know when to sever your ties.
Much like in life, some relationships will not work out or last long. Be able to detect problems early and if they cannot be resolved to your satisfaction, sever your ties with your partner. Also, it is a good idea to run an automated internet alert to detect any important developments about your alliance partners. The last thing you want is to be associated with the wrong type of crowd.
Even when you sever your ties with companies, continue to invest in your human relationships. Stay in touch with your former alliance partners and keep them updated on your progress. You never know when former ties will appear in front of you again. When that time comes you want them to be your allies rather than your enemies.
One of the hottest debates in the information technology community today centers around cloud computing. Proponents suggest the flexibility, scalability and economics of the cloud make it a logical choice, while opponents point to security and privacy concerns as reasons not to move to the cloud. From the perspective of a company focused on providing secure information technology solutions to large, very security-conscious customers, we believe it is possible for small to mid-sized organizations to have the best of both worlds: the benefits of the cloud can be affordably attained in a way that does not jeopardize an organization’s security.
Security is the big argument against cloud computing these days. However, one might argue that cloud computing can actually be more secure than locally managed systems, particularly for small to mid-sized companies. Here are a few specific examples:
Multifactor authentication: A number of cloud computing vendors now offer multi-factor authentication as part of their service. Multi-factor authentication is much more secure than the more traditional user name and password authentication convention. Instead, multi-factor authentication systems combine something you know (password), with something you have (hard token), and/or something you are (biometric). Unfortunately, many small and mid-size companies don’t have the resources (skills, time, or money) to implement such authentication capabilities on their own.
If you have ever negotiated a project or a deal, you know part of the battle isn’t just working with the other side. It’s winning over your own side as well. In every deal I negotiate, I work with my clients so that the legal team is an asset to the deal, the business team and the company in general. In this article, I’ll provide suggestions on how lawyers and their business partners can join forces to get the best deal for the company.
Business partners, these 3 ways of approaching a deal can help you leverage your legal team and close deals faster:
1. Bring in your counsel early. Lawyers cost
Imoney, and the natural inclination is to bring the lawyer in at the last possible moment to reduce legal costs. Frequently, however, when I’m brought in at the last minute, I have the unenviable task of pointing out ambiguities, risks and issues in the contract that haven’t been considered, making everyone feel like I’m being paid to call their baby ugly. In-house lawyers that get brought in at the last minute usually get referred to as the “business prevention department” because of this – which perpetuates the cycle. If I’m brought in early enough in the deal – sometimes as early as during the drafting of an RFP for large deals – not only can the legal fees be included in the business case and the budget (preventing unpleasant surprises later) but I can almost always save a client in legal fees by advising where language, concepts, or risks may be a problem for one side, and how to resolve the issue earlier in the process. I also help the client articulate and refine its going-out position, what it’s willing to give, when to give it, and at what point the deal is no longer feasible.