Book Club #28: Twelve and a Half, by Gary Vaynerchuk

Twelve And a HalfNot too long ago we reviewed Gary Vee’s Crushing It!, which is all about helping business owners understand how social media can help them win in the ever-digitizing world of business. His newest book, Twelve and a Half: Leveraging the Emotional Ingredients Necessary for Success, is another in his series of business books that are unlike anything else in the marketplace. While perfect for business owners, it’s also a great gift for recent high school or college graduates.

For Business Owners

In Part I of the book Gary offers the dictionary definition of twelve traits he feels strong in, as well as one “half” trait (kind candor) that he feels he continues to develop in. These chapters are short but consistently reference Gary’s own life experience and why he thinks proper and consistent deployment of these “emotional ingredients” (as he refers to them) leads to success in business. 

For the record the twelve ingredients are:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Accountability
  4. Optimism
  5. Empathy
  6. Kindness
  7. Tenacity
  8. Curiosity
  9. Patience
  10. Conviction
  11. Humility
  12. Ambition

It might be jarring to see humility and ambition side-by-side, but Gary resolves this by saying:

I love talking about my ambition publicly, in front of the world, because it holds me accountable. Doing so also gives the whole world permission to laugh at me if I fail.

At the end of his chapter on patience, Gary notes:

“Almost every time I put out content about patience, a stunning amount of the comments say, ‘Easier said than done.’ I want to remind you, as you uncover your halves, that all great things should be hard.”

For Grads (to Discuss with Business Owners)

Part II of the book is full of examples in which deploying an ingredient makes all the difference. Here’s one of them:

When your manager or client gives you unexpected negative feedback, how you deliver the following line determines what will happen next:

“Hey, Olivia, can you give me more clarity on your feedback?”

I want you to read that line out loud…the emotional ingredients you deploy in this situation can change your tone of questioning and potentially the outcome of this meeting.

The importance of tone in a textual exchange will not be lost on a recent graduate, but imagine how much more powerful the example can be if it were posed to a relative or family friend, “Have you ever run into a situation like this?” Now, instead of only having Gary Vee’s example, the recent grad will have the feedback and example of someone close to him/her.

The book is chock-full of scenarios worth considering.

The third and final part of the book has challenges related to the twelve and a half ingredients, some of which call for vulnerable sharing on social media, which is probably not for the faint of heart, but still worth considering. While business owners may be used to getting out of their comfort zones regularly, graduates may not be, and this book provides the opportunity and nudge to do just that.

Did you enjoy this review? We’ve got dozens more for you to check out.

Book Club #27: The Barstool MBA, by Dan Maccarone and Bob Sullivan

Barstool MBALet’s face it, a lot of business books are pretty boring and can be a lot shorter.  Part of why we have this book club series of articles is to steer you away from those (Good to Great, anyone?) and towards books that won’t feel like a college assignment and offer thoughtful reflections and sometimes, good advice.  The Barstool MBA: Why Running a Bar Beats Running to Business School is one of those books.  Co-authored by successful bar owner Dan Maccarone and best-selling author Bob Sullivan, this book is unconventional from the start: it’s only available in audio format.

A business-oriented title from the Audible Originals series, this 8.5 hour listen features both authors reading, as well as a “tip jar” section at the end of each chapter offering summary and a few “tips” to crystallize what you’ve just heard into ideas you might implement or try.

If you’ve ever worked in a bar, you’re going to enjoy some of the stories that are shared.  If you’ve never worked in a bar, you’re going to get a much better appreciation for all that goes into making your time at one enjoyable.

The book takes us from pre-opening, to opening, to closing and/or selling a bar.  While we follow one particular project of Maccarone’s, a NYC bar named Destination, the authors have correlating stories of other NYC bars to offer context to their lessons, as well as stories of other tech startups and exits to help you see the through line of their “earned at the bar” lessons running all the way to Silicon Valley.

So, here are a few bar snacks to get you interested in giving this book a listen:

Chapters 1 and 2 are very much about beginning with the end in mind.  While we may think of a bar as just a place to relax with some friends, the best ones are memorable to you, ones that you describe to others, as a place “you just have to go” to.  Those places have applied a forensic level of intentionality to what the bar will be and how customers will feel inside it, in other words, the customer journey.  This can include:

  • What will happen on slow nights?  Will there be live music, games, food promotions?  Each of those possibilities brings a different kind of crowd that may or may not mesh with what the bar is and stands for.
  • What sort of drinks are you serving?  If you’re trying to hawk independent beers, carrying any of the major brands can undermine your legitimacy.  If you’re serving high end cocktails, how competent are your bartenders with those drinks?  The bartenders themselves — are they the type that not only get you regulars but have those regulars tell their friends?

Chapters 5-15 are the heart of the book and discuss everything from employee theft (it happens very often) to “not drinking at your own bar” (which is less about getting drunk and more about remembering that you may not be your own customer) to getting one-star reviews (as we have said, how you respond is almost as important as what the original reviewer said).  A couple highlights include:

  • Buyback analysis.  Regulars and good customers get “buybacks,” or free drinks or food at some point.  What you might not know is that this isn’t random.  A great example that is shared is of the customer who is, without fanfare, getting up and putting a jacket on, but suddenly finds a fresh drink or an unexpected snack delivered to them.  He/she shrugs his shoulders and, not in a rush, sits down to the buyback, which inevitably leads to another purchase of food or drink.  The best bartenders are always observing when a strategic buyback makes sense for someone they’ve never seen before, and the best bar owners make sure that there’s a coherent buyback policy for regulars that everyone is on the same page about.
  • 86ing customers.  One of the great satisfactions of owning a business is being able to fire customers who are rude or who don’t seem to understand boundaries.  Alas, this is a regular occurrence at a place that serves alcohol.  The various situations the authors share only serve to underline the poisonous effect that bad customers can have not just on other customers, but on employee morale.  Traditional businesses can really learn something from bar owners here.

Chapters 16 and 17 deal with closing a bar, and as business brokers, we’re obviously interested in exits and how those come together.  You get insight into the end of the bar Destination, which you’ve followed throughout the book, but you also learn that business cycles and trends also affect the value and saleability of bars.  If you’re the last Irish pub for sale when Irish pubs are on a downtrend, unsurprisingly your valuation will be lower, even if your numbers are great.

We think you’ll enjoy this unconventional business book, and if you want a sneak preview via a short video of the authors, you can find one from Audible here.

Need other recommendations for books?  Check out our Book Club series.  Got one for us?  Give us a call and we might add it to this series.

Book Club #26: Traction, by Gino Wickman

Book: Traction - Get a Grip on Your BusinessWe’ve already alluded to Gino Wickman’s Traction here on the blog before by writing about one of the key elements of the book: the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).  But there are so many other valuable nuggets of wisdom in the book that we wanted to make sure we also did a book club article to highlight just a few of its most valuable ideas.

Build Your Leadership Team

A business that is built to sell has a solid leadership team, even if that’s only composed of one or two other non-owners.  Wickman lists five abilities that everyone in your leadership team should have:

  • Simplify — “eliminating complexity and reducing everything to the essential”
  • Delegate and Elevate — “freeing and elevating yourself to do what you do best, and doing the same for every person in your organization”
  • Systematize — “documenting and getting everyone to follow the essential procedural steps in your company’s core processes”
  • Structure — “defining and organizing the positions in your organization to reduce complexity and increase clarity, communication, and accountability”
  • Predict — Choose the right short-term path (issues over the next 90 days) vs long-term challenges (issues over 90 days) 

Take Risks

Growing businesses have a healthy approach to risk.  Wickman lists three ways to approach it:

  • Be open-minded — whether you’re looking at how NFTs might make sense for your business or the possibility of remote work for your employees, you don’t reject ideas out of hand just because you don’t understand them or they make you uncomfortable.
  • Be growth-oriented — “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a truism, but so is “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”  Be willing to look at different ways your business can grow that you haven’t tried before.
  • Be vulnerable — part of why risk is scary for all of us is the possibility that we may lose something or “go backwards.”  But those who are willing to take risks don’t banish fear.  They manage it by being willing to be uncomfortable, which includes being vulnerable.

Know Your Role

Michael Gerber’s E-Myth was famous for parsing the entrepreneur, the technician, and the manager as hats all business owners must wear at different stages of the business.  The two titles that Wickman’s action-oriented book offers are visionary and integrator.

The visionary is a dreamer, strategist, and planner.  The integrator is the executor, the “get things done” person.  Every business needs both, and very rarely are both roles well contained in one person.  In the press it’s very often the visionary that gets the credit (think Steve Jobs) and rarely the integrator that’s even mentioned (think Scottie Pippen).

A lot of frustrations in business partnerships can originate from a failure to understand the necessity (and equality) of both of these roles in a successful business and a subsequent failure for said integrator/visionary to stay in respective lanes.  

Numbers Matter

One of the most valuable ideas of Traction and the EOS is the scorecard, the idea that you can, at a glance, through a set of numbers and metrics, see where your business is at the moment and where it is headed.  Many business owners know that information intuitively by working every day in the business.  But that’s not a sustainable business practice; it’s not something that can be packaged and sold.  

Numbers should be known and shared by everyone in the business to make real progress.  Having relevant numbers arranged in a regular scorecard allows you to get things done in the present and plan for the future.  When those numbers are integrated with a leadership team that is tracking short-term and long-term issues, it means you also have a chance to catch items that fall through the cracks.

Some of the best people to help implement the principles in Traction are business coaches.  Thankfully, we know a few. Give us a call and we can connect you!

Book Club #25: Crushing It! How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence and How You Can Too, Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk

Image Courtesy of Gary Vee IP, LLC

If you haven’t heard about Gary Vaynerchuk, here’s the short version: immigrant from Belarus who started in entrepreneurship while he was in grade school in lemonade stands and baseball cards and graduated to growing his family’s liquor store business from a 7 figure business to an 8 figure one by being one of the early YouTube personalities; Gary now runs a social media empire and has multiple business investments, including being one of the early investors in Twitter and Uber, with sizeable holdings in Facebook.  His (current) life aspiration is to own the New York Jets.

You could get all that information from reading this book, but you’re just as likely to have gotten it from all the social media platforms Gary and his team have a presence on.  Before he wrote Crushing It!, he wrote a book way back in 2009 called Crush It! which detailed exactly how to excel on social media and why it is so important in the first place.  Crushing It! is an updated form of that book packed with case studies of people who read the first book, applied what Gary taught, and built everything from fun side hustles to enormous businesses.

Social Media Bewilderment

A lot of our sellers here at Apex are a bit bewildered by social media.  We get it.  Many of our team of brokers came up in business when your Yellow Pages spend was always a big part of the marketing discussion.  Obviously times have changed but many people seem not to understand what social media can do for their businesses.

In this book, as he did in the first version of the book, Gary explains what social media is at a granular level.  Yes, there are cat videos and celebrity photos.  But there are also people asking, “who knows a good plumber?” on Facebook and people asking, “how do you buy a business?” on places like Twitter and Quora.  There are people sharing their thoughts and advocating for ideas on LinkedIn.  There are companies showing off their work for clients and sharing fun on Instagram and TikTok.  

What do all of these interactions have in common?
They scale human interactions.  

Many people think of “doing business” as going to a networking event or having one-on-one coffees, and for sure, those will always be opportunities for “retail business.”  But there is a limit to the hours of your day and there’s also a limit to how many people you want to meet and interact with in a given week.  Everyone needs private time not just to relax but to get work done.

Social media works while you’re asleep.  It works on your behalf.  It brings people to you that could never have met you otherwise.  But just like going out to networking events or having one-on-one coffees, it requires work.  You have to be willing to put in the time on social media in order to get social media results.  

Just a few examples Gary shares in the book include:

  • Interacting with people on Twitter: answering questions, posing them.  Staking out business positions you believe in strongly but aren’t necessarily popular.
  • Sharing on LinkedIn: all things considered, people prefer to do business with people they know and trust.  A way that people can get to know and trust you is by your interacting on LinkedIn by adding value: share links to articles and podcasts you really enjoyed and give a one paragraph summary of why someone would find this content valuable.
  • Creating articles on platforms like Medium or answering questions on Quora.  People are always looking for good content and taking the time to share your knowledge will pay dividends.

In all these cases Gary is pointing out that social media, like business (and often, life), is about leading with value.  If your social media strategy to this point has consisted of “hey look at me” or “hey buy my product” or “hey use my services” and you’re bewildered as to why “social media” “doesn’t work” “for you” it’s because you’re doing it wrong.  

Social media is not a digital version of the Yellow Pages, where you unabashedly list your business and wait for the leads to roll in.

Social media is your business, digital and at scale, for the entire world to come and learn about and interact with.  It’s your opportunity to earn business.  That’s going to take effort on your part.  This book not only shows you how, it also shows you people who’ve done it and continue to do it.

Would you like some help with your social media?  We aren’t gurus but we know people who are and would be happy to refer you.  Give us a call!

Book Club #24: The 7 Day Startup, by Dan Norris

Book Club #24: The 7 Day Startup, by Dan NorrisWhile the book title, The 7 Day Startup, might make you roll your eyes a bit, the author’s premise is simple: it doesn’t take that long to start a business. And the most important knowledge you will gain will come after you launch. So launch!

We won’t be able to talk about the entire book in this review, but we’ll share some of the key highlights that any business owner can review, even one who is long past the days of starting up. Don’t be intimidated by the “7 Day” title. Dan just dedicates one day to various tasks to complete before launching.

Tasks to Complete Before Launching

  • The Nine Elements of a Great Bootstrapped Idea?
  • WTF is an MVP?
  • Choose a Business Name
  • Build a Website in One Day for under $100
  • 10 Ways to Market Your Business
  • Set Targets
  • Launch

Evaluate Your Idea

For any business that you want to pursue, there’s an easy nine point checklist Dan has put together. You don’t need to excel in each of these areas, but you should have a decent answer for each one. If you already have a business, you can use these questions to identify weak spots in your business to prepare it for sale.  

Does your business…

Have enjoyable Daily Tasks? It doesn’t make sense to start a business that is going to have you doing daily tasks that you don’t enjoy. What will be your day-to-day tasks for this business?

Product/Founder Fit? What skills do you have, what are you most known for, and where can you provide the most value? If this doesn’t line up with your business, that’s a problem.

A scalable business model? Do you have the ambition to grow your business and will it easily accept that growth?

The ability to operate profitably without the founder? Remember that if you can’t leave your business for 30 days and have it grow in your absence, you don’t own a business, you own a job. If you can’t do this with your business or business idea, you’ll have difficulty selling it.

The qualities of a sellable asset? One of the qualities of a sellable asset is the ability to run without the founder. Others include:

  • Product design
  • Intellectual property
  • Your team
  • Website
  • Recurring revenue

A large market potential? This is also often called “total addressable market” (TAM). You don’t have to become a national company, but you can’t be too niche.

Tap into pain/pleasure differentiators? What do your customers really care about? Does your business go beyond a “cool idea” and actually solve a pain they have or give them a pleasure they desire?

Have a unique lead generation advantage? This could be as simple as great content like blogs and videos or higher level strategies like webinars and courses. What is going to set you apart from your competitors?

Have the ability to launch quickly? If it’s going to take you a year to launch, you won’t be able to learn from customers as you go. Choose an idea that you can launch and modify quickly. When you start getting real data from paying customers, you can innovate and get the product perfect.

What’s in a Name?

What's in a Name?Dan points out that many people agonize over the “perfect” name for their business. Instead, he has six questions that get to the heart of what matters: a name that works.

  1. Is it taken? (Have you looked to see if the name is used in your state or country?)
  2. Is it simple? (Will the customer get it without you explaining it, or is this about an obscure name that you are tied to?)
  3. Is it easy to say out loud? (Will customers enjoy sharing it with friends?)
  4. Do you like it? (This isn’t the same as absolutely loving it, but rather does it sit well with you?)
  5. Does it make sense for your idea? (Real winners in this category include Chipotle, Google, and Dropbox)
  6. Is it broad? (Remember to give yourself some room to maneuver as you build your company.  You don’t have to be very specific to start.  Bob’s Bakery might work just as well as Bob’s Bagels.)

Where are the customers?

“Without question, the biggest mistake people make is obsessing over their idea and not focusing enough on finding people willing to pay for their product.”

“The popular stories you hear about startup validation go something like this: 1. I created a website with a brief video. 2. It went viral. 3. I bought a yacht.”

This is a point Dan keeps hammering home over and over in the book. Instead of spending time perfecting your idea, find out if someone is willing to pay for it. Here, he uses the MVP (minimum viable product) term made popular by Eric Ries of Lean Startup fame. If you can’t find people who are willing to pay for a bare bones version of your product, why would they pay for the version you are cooking up in your mind? “You don’t learn until you launch,” Dan says.

Instead of having everything be perfect on launch day, just focus on being competent. There’s only room to improve from launch day.

So, as Dan says, go for it!

Book Club #23: Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferriss

Tribe of Mentors, by Tim FerrissTim Ferriss is most known for his bestselling The Four Hour Work Week, but most recently has been compiling books that have been enabled by his top-rated podcast. The newest one is Tribe of Mentors, which has the subtitle of “Short Life Advice from the Best in the World.” At almost 600 pages, the book is not meant to be read straight through, but in 4-5 page increments as you peruse the answers to a set of questions Tim posed to one hundred different high achievers.

The Questions

Not every person answers every question listed below, and some bend and re-frame the question to go down a more interesting path, but to give you a frame of reference, here they are:

  • What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
  • What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? 
  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
  • If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. 
  • What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
  • What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
  • In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
  • What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
  • What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
  • In the last five years, what have you become better at saying ‘no’ to?
  • When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

The Answers

We obviously can’t go through all the many answers that were given in the book, but here are a few.

On Advice to Recent Grads

Developer of “smart contracts” and the precursor to Bitcoin, Bit Gold, Nick Szabo offers the following: “The less you need positive feedback on your ideas, the more original design regions you can explore, and the more creative and, in the long term, useful to society you will be.” Unlike the “plastics!” advice of previous generations, this challenges those coming up in society to be willing to take more risks.

Ben Silbermann, CEO and co-founder of Pinterest, adds: “I feel like a lot of people in Silicon Valley serialize their lives. They think, ‘First I’ll do college. Then I’ll do a startup. Then I’ll make money. Then I’ll do X.’ There’s some truth in that approach, but most of the most important stuff has to be parallel-processed, like your relationships and your health, because you can’t make up the time by doing more of it later. You can’t neglect your wife for four years and then say, ‘Okay, now it’s my wife years.’

Relationships don’t work that way, and neither does your health or your fitness…Figuring out a system, so that the stuff you need to do all the time happens, even while you might be placing disproportionate focus on one thing, is pretty important. Otherwise, you’ll be setting yourself up to be lonely and unhealthy in your future.”

On New Beliefs

Arianna Huffington became more intentional with her time: “Before, I separated time into work time and non-work time, and I always wanted to maximize work time. Now I realize that you can’t separate the two — time spent taking breaks, taking a walk, unplugging, meditating — that’s all work time, too, in the sense that time spent unplugging and recharging makes me better, more effective, and happier in my work and in my life.” 

Saying No

Josh Waitzkin, a chess prodigy whose life was the basis for the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, has an extreme take on saying “no” more often: “I say no to just about everything public. I say no to more than 99 percent of professional opportunities that people approach me with.” This is echoed by tech founder Muneeb Ali later in the book: “External meetings should be initiated by me…and not initiated by others.” Now, not all of us are as busy as these people might be, but surely we could audit how and where we are spending our time to be of greater personal benefit to ourselves and those we love.

Regaining Focus when Overwhelmed

Maria Sharapova shared a quote of Hal Boyle’s to help her when she’s feeling lost or unfocused: “What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt – it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”  

Of course there are literally hundreds more answers in the book, and if you’d like to listen to some of them free, you can check some of them out in the short audio series Tim released just for the book

In the meantime, it might be a fun exercise to do these questions yourself and share them with your friends and colleagues.  You’ll learn plenty about yourself and them in doing so.

Book Club #22: Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss

Shaking HandsNegotiations aren’t just integral to business transactions, they are part of our everyday lives. As Chris Voss notes in his excellent book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It: “Everything in life is a negotiation… crossing the street, getting your coffee… you’re probably in 3-7 negotiations every single day.”

While we can’t get into everything Chris discusses in his book in a short article, we can discuss a few key takeaways to improve what you’re doing in business (and life) right now.


While Voss now runs a renowned consultancy called The Black Swan group, he got started in negotiations with the FBI in hostage situations.

One of the earliest and most basic techniques taught is mirroring. This consists of repeating back words used by your counterparty, but with a tone of question. For example, “This deal point is really important to us.” The mirrored response could be, “When you say ‘really important,’ what do you mean by that?” or “Really important?” and just let that tone hang.

By repeating their words back to them respectfully and in a tone of inquiry, you allow the counterparty to give you more information. The more information you have, the better position you are in to negotiate.

The 7/38/55 Rule

A UCLA study some years ago explored the importance of three factors in communication: content, tonality, and body language. The importance broke down across those ratios, i.e. 7% of what was said, the content, was important; 38% was the tone used in communicating that content; but a whopping 55% of what came across to the person hearing the content was captured in the body language.

We may all know this instinctively as part of living life in society, but hearing the numbers broken down really underscores that instinct. Tone of voice is more than five times more important than what you are actually saying! If we keep 7/38/55 in our minds more as we communicate, our communications will be better and our negotiations sharper.

The Accusation Audit

A fascinating technique Chris promotes is something called the “accusation audit.” It’s used to disarm people at the very beginning of a negotiation, by calling out all the possible fears and thoughts that the counterparty might be thinking. In a way, it’s calling attention to the elephant in the room so it can’t be an unspoken threat.

An example Voss gives comes from one of his clients who was getting squeezed from above by changing demands from a federal contract and thus had less money to pay out their subcontractors. Voss’ client had a meeting with one of the subcontractors and wanted to pave a way for things to move forward smoothly. She started out the meeting by saying, “I know you might think we are the big contractors squeezing out the little guy.”

By letting the subcontractor know from the outset that she understood their perspective and saying what was unsaid, Voss’ client was able to disarm and explain what the real situation was, which was something beyond their control, and then look forward to a mutually acceptable solution.

If video hits home with you more, Chris also has a Masterclass available.

We’ve got some great negotiating tips as well. Give us a call if you’ve got questions about a business negotiation you’re involved in.

Book Club #21: Finish Big: How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on Top, by Bo Burlingham

How Great Entrepreneurs Exit Their Companies on TopWe’ve run into Bo Burlingham here on Book Club before. We’ve reviewed his groundbreaking Small Giants book and he was seen as a major source for Dan Andrews’ Before the Exit as well.

Burlingham characterizes this as an “end-up” book as opposed to a “start-up” book. Fascinatingly, there’s so much literature about starting up, but not too many at all, like Finish Big, about “ending up.” Yet it is true that all businesses at some point, must end for the owner, and the most successful ones end in an exit.

Key Lessons of Finish Big

The book is chock full of lessons for anyone even remotely interesting in building, running, and exiting businesses, but they can be divided into several large categories:

  • Case Studies – actual stories of how businesses started and exited, sometimes with the names changed. These can either be major successes or catastrophic failures. In either case you often have the entrepreneur him/herself describing, through the author, each step in the process.
  • Education – if you didn’t know about due diligence, financial ratios, stock vs. equity purchase and other vocabulary that surrounds a business transaction, Bo does an excellent job of weaving short explanations of these throughout the text. He assumes that you have some basic familiarity with business in general, but assumes a zero starting point for familiarity with the ins and outs of transactions.
  • Choosing a successor and managing your people – one of the trickiest parts of a transaction is keeping confidentiality so that your staff can stay on task.  Perhaps even trickier is to find a successor to you so that a buyer can have confidence the company will not just survive, but thrive. Burlingham takes us through several scenarios, extracting key steps you should take along the way.
  • End in Mind – a theme Burlingham keeps hammering home in the book is the idea of “think about your exit before it’s time.” The best time to think about your exit is during the time you start up. The next best time is at least 18-24 months before you list your business for sale. Here at Apex we’ve often maintained good relations with our clients for years before they listed their businesses, mostly because they wanted someone to keep them grounded in the realities of the market, and because they wanted to make the changes necessary to exit at a level they preferred.
  • Mentorship – we may start the journey of entrepreneurship alone, but very rarely is the journey completed alone. Burlingham highlights the many ways that entrepreneurs can find mentorship, coaching, and help in their journeys.
  • What happens next – by speaking with many entrepreneurs about the pitfalls of an exit – successful or otherwise – Burlingham challenges readers to think ahead to what happens after the sale too, not just focus on the numbers and delight of the exit.

There’s really no other book like Finish Big in the market. Only read it if you’re interested in learning about the right mindsets you should have in order to have a successful exit, which may very well be the most important financial event of your life. If you want to shortcut the reading, give us a call! We’ve got plenty of those stories amongst our treasure trove of brokers!

Book Club #20: The Lifestyle Business Owner, by Aaron Muller

Lifestyle BusinessThe subtitle of Aaron Muller’s book is “How to Buy a Business, Grow Your Profits, and Make it Run Without You.” While entrepreneurship has perhaps never been more in the public consciousness, the phrase “lifestyle business” is still not commonly known in the general public, and this book goes a long way to addressing that gap while sharing some important lessons along the way.

Let Your Business Be Your Business

For those who are considering buying a business, there’s often some soul-searching: is this my passion? Muller’s response to that query is one we tend to agree with: “Finding meaning and purpose in your life is hard enough. Finding a profitable business that also gives your life the unique meaning and purpose you are looking for is doubly hard.”

It’s a lot to ask of a business to offer meaning and purpose for your life. Rather, you should focus on:

  • Soundness of the business.  Are the taxes and paperwork in order? Are the financials up to date and do they show promising trends?
  • Role in the business.  Are you being asked to be an owner-operator (someone working on the business each day or at least each week) or an absentee owner (someone who only periodically checks in on the business or if there is a major decision to be made)? Do you think this role would suit your talents and current desire to work?
  • Growth potential.  Is this something that you can build on in the next 3-5 years to give yourself more options, i.e. build from owner-operator to absentee or from absentee to another exit.

Leverage Previous Mistakes

In a previous article we shared that a buyer of a business was able to more than double his income simply because he fulfilled the orders that the previous owner failed to do. The author shared a story about a business he once bought which had alienated many customers: “In fact, I even put up a banner on the building that read, “New Owner. Friendly Service.” Within one year, revenues increased by over 65 percent.”

Sometimes previous owners have made mistakes they haven’t told you about just because it’s too personally embarrassing. One of them might include poor attitudes with clients or times they simply could have done better on the customer service side of things. Never underestimate the power of a restart and the second chance a customer might give to a new owner.

Bring Your ‘A’ Game… and Teach It

Whatever it is that is causing your customers to come, you need to transfer that skill to your employee,” Muller opines. He’s right. Whenever you are able to bottle your value-adds into training and company manuals, you’ve created a better asset for a future customer.  

At the heart of a lifestyle business is the unique proposition of creating a schedule you determine and an income you’re responsible for. Don’t be beholden to a 9-5 office paradigm. You can work the hours you want on the days that you want… as long as you set up the proper systems to do so. While the lifestyle you build for yourself may limit scalability and growth for your company, this will be a conscious choice you make that will also make the business an attractive acquisition for someone in the future, who like you, wants a lifestyle business.

We offer businesses of all “speeds” here at Apex, including lifestyle businesses.  Learn more today!

Book Club #19: Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh

happinessMany business books offer solutions or systems or case studies to make their point.  Very few offer a simple narrative with lessons gleaned on the journey.

Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, happens to be one of those books.  

It had no agenda other than telling the story of Zappos, and yet, when you tell the story of a company that gets acquired for a billion dollars in stock by Amazon ten years after its founding, no agenda is really necessary.  

The journey itself is a compelling narrative.

Pay Employees To Quit

Hiring is such a challenging part of any business that one would think that once you’ve got a new hire, you want to do your best to keep him/her.  Zappos agrees, but adds a twist.

During the training process, they offered a $2,000 bounty to anyone who quits during a certain time period, in addition to getting all pay/vacation time accrued.  

This worked so well in making sure the best people stayed (and the few short-sighted ones left) that Amazon created their own program after acquiring Zappos called Pay to Quit. This program allows full-time associates to take a $5,000 one time bonus to leave the company, but it means they can never work for Amazon again.

Instead of the focus being on bringing on warm bodies, it was on bringing on long-term players, part of a team, part of a family.

Customer Service That Matters

More and more companies are making it difficult for you to contact them if you have problems, questions, or just feedback.  Zappos chooses to go the other way, by plastering their 24/7 telephone number at the top of their website.

In the book Tony mentions at the time of publishing their longest customer call was 6 hours long.  They chose to focus on the relationship with each individual customer.

And when you are focused on relationships, you aren’t focused on metrics like quick turnover times on calls. You want every part of the buying experience to be fun and delightful, and Zappos lives that.

Giving employees the freedom to really represent the brand, as a partner of sorts, inspires them and rubs off onto customers, who go on to become loyal customers, right after they rave about you on social media.

A Culture on Display to the World

Tony would make a point of posting internal company emails and memos to a public blog. He did this only moments after sending them out to the company.  

He also compiled a culture book each year which was printed and distributed to all employees and was then made digitally available to the public.  

The only rule was that no one at the company could censor what each employee wrote. (which, by the way, was their own personal experience of what Zappos company culture was to them).

Culture can’t be made.  It can only grow by the environment created by the work you do together.  Being unafraid of sharing only adds sunshine to an already fertile project.