Confessions of an Entrepreneur: Brian Ouellette
Confessions of an Entrepreneur: Brian Ouellette
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0800

Brian Ouellette had an epiphany, thanks to Sports Illustrated – professional athletes were in need of professional financial advisers. This light bulb moment, as he calls it, lead to the creation of Pro Athlete Direct, an education-based marketing system designed to help financial advisors and realtors reach professional athletes. Ouellette's company heavily relies on technology to reach and train members.

Q: What devices do you use daily?

A: Like most entrepreneurs, Ouellette relies on his mobile phone – a Google Pixel 2 XL – and his laptop. But he has gone a slightly different route when it comes to both hardware and software. "Several years ago," Ouellette explains, "I moved over to Google for just about everything, including our business email, docs, spreadsheets, browser, etc. The security is bulletproof. The Chromebooks run quick, smooth and, for me, just became preferred after having so many issues with Windows."

Q: What technology do you use to stay ahead of your competition?

A: With a reliance on technology tools, Ouellette has several applications that are core to what Pro Athlete Direct does. "I have some pretty cool services we use on a daily basis," he says. Many, like Screencastify, Awesome Screenshot, Fleeq, and WebinarJam help with the core business of educating members. Others, like Diigo, GMass, RingCentral, and Leadpages are for operations and marketing. "We have others," Ouellette says, "but we need to be careful about giving out too many of our special powers." Many of the tools used are web-based, making them accessible to Ouellette from anywhere, at any time.

Q: Is technology a significant enabler for your business?

A: Like other trailblazing entrepreneurs, Ouellette provides an emphatic yes to this question. "I can adapt pretty quickly when a great tool becomes available or improved. We are always on the lookout for the best gadgets that accelerate results for ourselves, members and prospects. But," Ouellette adds, "It is a bit of a Catch-22 (in a big way), because it's really easy to take your eye off the ball chasing all the latest gadgets and goodies."

Q: Has social media influenced your business at all, from internal employee policies to how you promote your company?

A: While Ouellette and Pro Athlete Direct use social media, he admits it's a moving target. "If you think about it, it didn't really exist more than 15 years ago," Ouellette says. "All the users, experts, specialists have learned on the fly. I have to remind myself of this when I grow frustrated with the learning curve."

To stay up-to-date, Ouellette turns to certain individuals whom he knows and trusts. "I have built up a network of experts I follow and listen to in this realm, and feel it helps me be most efficient with our social media endeavors while allowing me to not recreate the wheel each time."

Q: Have you had to adapt your business because of security concerns brought about by the increased use of technology?

A: "Security is an important piece of the pie chart that often gets overlooked until there is an issue," says Ouellette. One of the ways that he manages security loops back to his choice in equipment and services. "To be honest," says Ouellette, "a big reason for the move to Chromebooks over the last five years had to do with security. Google manages all updates automatically and, as of now, it is believed the Chromebook is one of the most secure laptops available."

3 Tips to Leverage the Gig Workforce for Exponential Growth
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 -0800

Call them gig workers, remote workers, telecommuters, and sometimes freelancers and contractors. The're all part of the gig economy, and it means that more of your “staff” will be people working remotely, often with flexible hours, and they may or may not be full-time employees.

The gig workforce, as a turn of phrase, may sound trendy, but don’t let that fool you. It is a transformative trend that is changing the way we do work in the Western hemisphere (and elsewhere around the globe).

Back in the 1990s, when the internet first became a force in the world, people often talked about how the future was “telecommuting.” We could cut down on traffic and save the environment by working from home through our computers. Resistance from bosses as well as some employees made the telecommuting dream far from reality at the time.

Tech companies were the first to start embracing remote work – until the very public banning of telecommuting at Yahoo! by new CEO Marissa Mayer when she was first hired in 2013. Her decision was universally lambasted, especially by the working mothers at Yahoo!, who were resentful that Mayer, the privileged CEO, was building a nursery right next to her office for her soon-to-be-arriving baby.

Mayer was wrong about remote work, and in some respects, her very unpopular decision probably did more to help make work from home (WFH for short) finally gain some traction. Contrary to fears set by managers, work from home staff are not only productive but have actually proven to be more productive, provided they are managed properly. WFH also makes employees happier and helps attract more top talent. This is in part why remote workers increased 80 percent from 2005 to 2012, and since then, the popularity of WFH went up to 80 percent.

It’s clear that the upsides to your company relaxing bans on remote work is far greater than the alternative. Don’t strictly adhere to old fashioned ideas that working in person is better. Younger members of the workforce are increasingly demanding the option to work from home. Get on board or risk losing some of your best talent, like Yahoo! did.

3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Gig Workforce 1. Use Technology to Coordinate Schedules and Workflows

Technology has really enabled companies to rely on a remote workforce. While you can get by with internet-connected computers and email, that’s really “roughing it” when it comes to managing a remote team. Fortunately, many cloud-based software tools are available to help manage your gig workers.

One of the biggest concerns from managers about leading remote teams is accountability. By using project management software that can handle advanced resource scheduling and allocation, these concerns should quickly fade away.

2. Make Your Remote Team Feel Like Part of the Team

Just because a team is in different parts of the country or globe, it doesn’t mean they can’t be encouraged to gel as a team. Face-to-face conferences, as well as the occasional in-person retreats to a fun, relaxing location can help inspire a feeling of unity.

Incentivize your team with bonuses and positive reinforcement. You can run your remote team by constantly threatening them with punishment for not doing the job right, but you are likely to get a lot of turnover instead of loyal team members who stick around for the long haul.

3. Get Feedback from Employees and Freelancers

Your gig workers may seem “remote” but they are still often on the front lines when it comes to dealing with the issues and challenges facing your business. Get their feedback on how to improve things – it is free for you, gives them a voice, and may help you overcome some blind spots.

Remote Teams Are the Future of Work

Whether you like it or not, the gig workforce is here to stay and the 2020s will see even more remote working. On the positive, it can make for productive, happy, employees and loyal freelancers, who get the benefits of a job while being able to avoid stressful commutes and fluorescent-lit offices. By leveraging this gig workforce, your company can grow exponentially much more easily.

9 Tips for Building a Customer-Driven Company in 2019
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 07:00:00 -0800

The world is evolving quickly, and customers are now in control. Customers want to shop how and when they choose, 24 hours a day. These rising customer anticipations can pose a challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers who are expected to extend the hours the business operates. It also affects both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce businesses, as they’re expected to monitor social accounts to keep pace with customer demands. 

Businesses are reacting in various ways. Develop a strategy focused on benefitting your customers and identify how technology is able to support the delivery of a distinct customer experience. If you’re ready to build a customer-driven business, take a look at these nine tips that can take you there. 

Develop a solid and clear brand promise.

In recent years, the customers’ loyalty to and trust in brands has dropped. This makes it more important than ever to align the marketing message with the actuality of the experience if you want customers to trust you. The customer experience is key – develop a strong, clear description of exactly what your business can deliver to the customer. This evokes emotion and inspires people to feel more connected to your business. Brand refers to the image people have of your product or company – it’s who people think that you are. A brand promise will help you to solidify the relationship you have with your customers and your brand. 

Keep learning and growing.

One key to success is to realize that everything evolves, so you and your business have to continue to improve and make changes, too. Customers anticipate you’ll be able to offer them the most current offerings and if you don’t, you can lose them to a more relevant business. Any business you choose to launch and run requires focus, patience and involves providing high quality customer service and products. 

Engage customers.

A few of the major factors that drive high levels of customer satisfaction include running a business that people trust, maintaining transparency and openness, the ability and willingness to hold conversations via the phone and the way your business handles complaints. Get employees involved early and seek their input on improvements and changes that can make a difference for the customers so they can best support and develop the new and improved experience. 

Focus on the most profitable customers.

While all customers need to be treated the same, they are not actually created equally. By studying your loyal customers, your business can identify the factors that drive the buying behavior of customers. One of many ways to boost your traffic in 2019 is to identify the loyalty drivers among your customer base to drastically improve customer satisfaction. 

Ensure customer access is seamless and simple across channels.

Customers want to contact businesses anytime and in any manner they prefer – and they anticipate a seamless experience. Customers do not want to wait on hold, not hear back from a business, or repeat their story numerous times before their issue is resolved. 

When you make it easy for your customers to make purchases, use your products, reach sales support, complain, and exchange or return an item, your customers will be more satisfied. Focus on minimizing effort and maximizing the customer experience. 

Build solid relationships with customers through data.

Businesses now have the ability to build a personal relationship with customers by leveraging techniques such as predictive analytics to understand customer preferences and life stages and patterns of customers. When you understand how to provide your customers with real value and engage with them directly, you’ll be able to grasp what they expect from their relationship with your brand. This is when you can truly bond with your customers. 

Shift from products to enhanced experiences.

Companies like Disney and Ikea recognize that creating experiences builds brand commitment. Yes, the products you offer are important but the way you offer things and the experience that surrounds them is what creates emotional memories for the customers. Take the steps you can to personalize your services. These emotional connections are what leads to the strongest customer loyalty possible. Keep in mind that the customer experience impacts all areas of your business from increased customer satisfaction to more customer referrals to reduced customer turnover and ultimately, increased sales and revenue. 

Increase urgency and speed.

Speed is a critical part of building customer loyalty. According to Forrester, 66 percent of adults feel that proving you value their time is the most important thing a business can do to provide them an excellent online customer experience. Make sure you’re available and empathetic and your team will shine and win your customers over. View every interaction with your customer as an opportunity to learn something new and to show them that you value their business. Time is precious – show your customers you recognize how valuable their time is and boost their loyalty instantly. 

Measure what is important to your customer.

An excellent customer experience is more important than ever -  this is why businesses have adopted the metrics that can help with the success of their customer service efforts. Aim to continually improve; create a feedback system that enables customers to offer their opinions on what is working well and what areas of your business and/or products and services need improvement. Utilize this data in efforts to revamp your current strategies and develop new strategies while taking the feedback into consideration. 

The most common barrier to customer centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture. In order to successfully implement a customer-centric strategy, your business must have a culture that aligns with leaders who choose to deliberately cultivate the mindset and values in their team. As a business leader, recognize that culture and strategy go hand in hand. Put these suggestions into action and your customers will see that you prioritize running a business that values its customers.

5 Ways to Empower your Employees in 2019
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 09:00:00 -0800

Too often we hear friends and family complaining about their jobs and how much they hate coming into work every day. No one likes working for a company that only cares about revenue, doesn’t listen to employees, and refuses to recognize hard work. This creates a negative, uninviting atmosphere where stress is high and the need to get out is even higher.

When your employees feel empowered at their job, they’re more likely to want to succeed and take on tasks with confidence. According to research by Aberdeen Group, companies with an engaged employee program see a spike in customer loyalty and a 26 percent annual increase in revenue. When your employees feel important, quality results will trail behind them.

If you’re looking for new ways to empower your employees in 2019, here are five essential tips to get you started.

1. Communicate expectations

It’s impossible for your team to meet your expectations if you don’t tell them what they are. By defining clear boundaries for them to work in, you’re able to properly communicate what you want while giving your employees free reign to work as they please. This promotes emotional intelligence and will prevent you from micromanaging their work or getting frustrated in the future when they don’t do something you expected of them. By stating what you want from employees directly, there’s no room for confusion, less room for error, and more room for growth.

2. Be flexible

Above all else, your employees are human. There are going to be times when life happens and they need to take some time off work or would prefer work from home options. More companies are realizing that, the more flexible they are with their employees, the more productive and refreshed they are to work. According to a survey by Flexjobs,

Eighty-two percent of employees say they’d be more loyal to their employers if flexible work options were provided. Giving workers options based on how they’d like to work and taking it seriously will show them you trust their work ethic.

3. Encourage feedback and ideas

Some of the best ideas have the ability to come from your hard working employees who strive to grow your business every day. When was the last time you asked them their serious opinion on something related to the company, perhaps on how to improve? Harvard Business Review found that 71 percent of executives rank employee engagement as very important to achieving overall organizational success, therefore asking for their input shows them that what they say matters and empowers them to be honest about their opinions.

4. Delegate important tasks

It isn’t enough to tell employees you trust their decision-making skills and their wit to be able to problem solve and get work done. You have to show them, and the best way to do this is to delegate different -- yet important -- tasks to them. Doing the same things day in and day out gets boring. According to ReportLinker, 83 percent of employees with opportunities to take on new challenges are more likely to stay with that company. By giving them something else to work on, not only is it a breath of fresh air, it keeps them motivated to work hard and shows them they’re trusted to take on bigger tasks.

5. Praise their accomplishments

When your employees do something that exceeds your expectations or take five minutes out of their day to help someone else out, they should be recognized for it. In a survey by Reward Gateway, 70 percent of employees said that workplace motivation and morale would improve if managers recognized hard work and said thank you more. A little bit of praise goes a long way and vocalizing someone’s good deeds and hard work will set them on track to continue their stellar work.

What’s next?

It’s not easy being in charge of an entire team of employees to manage. But with the intent to do well and help your team reach their goals, you can lead them to a path where they don’t loathe coming into work every day and might actually look forward to it. Be upfront about your expectations so you’re on the same page, listen to what they have to say, trust them to do their job without being micromanaged, and praise them for all they do. By doing so, your company will soon reap the benefits and your workplace culture will remain happy and productive.

The technology is coming, but it’s going to be expensive.


It shouldn’t be just on the patient.

MIT Sloan Management Review
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 15:46:08 +0000

Business leaders are increasingly inundated with information about how emerging, connected technologies such as cloud computing, internet of things, AI, blockchain, and others can transform their businesses. The potential resulting haste to adopt new technology and harness transformative change can lead organizations to treat these emerging technologies in the same manner as other, more traditional IT investments — as something explored in isolation and disconnected from the broader technological needs of the organization. In the end, those projects can eventually stall or be written off, leaving in their wake skepticism about the usefulness of emerging technologies.

The main struggle generally stems from the fact that IT is often regarded as a separate, siloed monolith and managed as such within the organization. But that isolated approach to thinking about, and investing in, technology may no longer be sufficient. We should no longer look at this range of popular, emerging technologies in the same way we have always looked at new IT advancements.

These new technologies are beginning to converge, and this convergence enables them to yield a much greater value. Moreover, once converged, these technologies form a new industrial infrastructure, transforming how and where organizations can operate and the ways in which they compete. Augmenting these trends is a third factor: the blending of the cyber and the physical into a connected ecosystem, which marks a major shift that could enable organizations to generate more information about their processes and drive more informed decisions.

Let’s explore this concept of convergence and the new infrastructure a bit further.

The New Infrastructure: What It Is and What to Do About It

As we think about the ways convergence affects how organizations operate, leverage technology, and compete, it is important to identify the emerging technologies that form the core infrastructure. The new industrial infrastructure comprises three specific capabilities that each fulfill critical business functions: connectivity, computing, and transacting. Together, they facilitate and manage information flows — generation, storage and processing, and secure exchange — creating a foundation upon which business and commerce can operate. While rooted in the digital realm, this infrastructure is every bit as real as the glass, concrete, and steel that offices or factories are made of — and every bit as critical.

As we think about these three capabilities, it’s also important to note three important technologies that make them possible:

Connect: Wi-Fi and other connectivity enablers. Wi-Fi enables perhaps the most critical part of a connected technology infrastructure: the connectivity itself. It is also a key piece of blending the digital and the physical across geographies and uses. Wi-Fi and related technologies, such as low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), allow for cable-free connection to the internet almost anywhere. Wi-Fi and other connectivity and communications technologies (such as 5G) and standards connect a wide range of devices, from laptops to IoT sensors, across locations and pave the way for the extension of a digital-physical layer across a broader range of physical locations. This proliferation of connectivity allows organizations to expand their connectivity to new markets and geographies more easily. Within organizations, this could provide the opportunity for transmitting and sharing information across multiple assets and locations, creating a more connected and transparent enterprise.

Store, analyze, and manage: cloud computing. The cloud has revolutionized how many organizations distribute critical storage and computing functions. Just as Wi-Fi can free users’ access to the internet across geographies, the cloud can free individuals and organizations from relying on nearby physical servers. The virtualization inherent in cloud, supplemented by closer-to-the-source edge computing, can serve as a key element of the next wave of technologies blending the digital and physical. With all of the digital data companies now produce, the ability to store, maintain, and analyze that data can be critical for providing a holistic view of operations and enabling intelligent decision-making. Put simply, the cloud offers a place to store critical data and the necessary infrastructure for companies to manage it.

Exchange and transact: blockchain. If cloud allows for nonlocal storage and computing of data — and thus the addition or extraction of value via the leveraging of that data — blockchain supports the exchange of that value (typically via relevant metadata markers). As a mechanism for value or asset exchange that executes in both a virtualized and distributed environment, blockchain allows for the secure transacting of valuable data anywhere in the world a node or other transactor is located. Blockchain appears poised to become an industrial and commercial transaction fabric, uniting sensor data, stakeholders, and systems.

Each of these technologies is fairly new for consumers and organizations, with the earliest seeing wide adoption in the last 15 years — and some of these technologies, such as blockchain, are still in earlier phases of the adoption cycle.

While the path of this new infrastructure is still taking shape, it is not entirely untrod. One example of the virtuous effect of combining existing technologies to forge a new industrial advantage is something we know quite well: our global positioning system (GPS).

Combining Technologies to Drive Greater Value

Sensors can provide valuable information about a variety of conditions for various physical devices and assets. For example, the sensor in a GPS device receives radio signals that contain data from three or more (usually four) satellites. It captures that data, processes it to understand a real-world condition or state, and renders the output digitally. That sensor-produced data can then be transmitted over radio waves, Wi-Fi, or a similar mechanism to relay that location data for further use. That information can be aggregated with information from other GPS devices and sensors throughout the ecosystem to better understand the environment: where people are, how quickly they are moving, what obstacles may be in the way, what weather conditions might be occurring, and a whole host of other data points.

This aggregated data tells a much bigger story than any one individual data point can on its own. Once it is transmitted to the cloud, basic software programs, machine learning algorithms, and eventually AI applications can analyze the pool of information to discover linkages between data points, draw out patterns, and extract valuable insights for making more informed decisions. Different insights show the range of use cases, for example, where slowdowns are occurring to prompt automatic rerouting of truck deliveries, where and how population (and thus potential demand) tends to cluster, which conditions tend to lead to breakdowns (and thus how to proactively avoid them), or what coupons to digitally push to a potential customer who may be approaching your store based on location and buying history.

New Geographies, Lowered Barriers to Market Entry, and Capability Extension

Looking beyond the simpler example of GPS, convergence and the new industrial infrastructure built on the foundation of connectivity, computing, and transacting offer profound value for organizations. With the ability to connect via Wi-Fi, leverage cloud computing and storage, and securely transact around the world via blockchain, businesses can scale an initial idea or product to have global reach with increasing ease. Using this infrastructure, organizations can link data across locations, aggregate it, extract insights, and manage a wealth of information with a relatively small physical footprint — even in the absence of traditional facilities, servers, or other large capital assets.

This can enable organizations to extend a capability or service to new locations with fewer barriers to entry. The competitive landscape will also continue to shift as these technologies allow disruptors to enter the scene with less friction.

Further, as more data is captured, transactions that may not have existed before could become possible — creating new opportunities for revenue growth and innovation. We see the beginnings of what the new infrastructure could offer in terms of capability extension in the wake of natural disasters. Humanitarian aid, often administered in areas where traditional infrastructure is destroyed or degraded, provides a window into what the new infrastructure might look like in practice as organizations find novel, deployable ways to extend service provision that are increasingly reliant on nonlocal elements of infrastructure.

In some cases, organizations and areas that are the least developed with respect to existing technological infrastructure may be the best positioned to adopt this new, holistic approach to technology investment and application. They simply have less traditional infrastructure in place to stifle such a shift. While organizations with entrenched technological processes and systems in place would be required to rethink how they adopt, connect to, and deploy their assets (physical, native digital, IP, and more), those with little in place face fewer hurdles.

Getting Started With the New Infrastructure

The new industrial infrastructure can transform both business processes and business models, realigning how organizations operate in an increasingly connected world. Many organizations likely already leverage one or more of the core technologies of the new infrastructure as part of their processes. In the future, we can expect that choosing to plug into the new industrial infrastructure can allow organizations to realize even greater benefits and expand into new business areas and new geographies.

As a crucial first step, organizations and leaders should invest the time to understand these core technologies. Disruption is inevitable, but it’s too simplistic to look at these shifts as technology “taking over” or “upending” specific industries or businesses. By moving away from the idea that information technology exists in its own silo, leaders can and should adopt a wider vantage point and recognize that digital transformation is an organization- or ecosystem-wide proposition. With this in mind, it’s important to move beyond discussions solely focused on IT to more holistic conversations about digital transformation more broadly. For example, leaders can begin by looking at their current roster of discrete technology innovations and challenging themselves to find ways to converge them into a more comprehensive, connected approach.

From this broader vantage point, leaders can then start small with incubated prototypes and proofs-of-concept that unite technologies within limited use cases before scaling up to broader enterprise adoption. These discussions should focus on business operations for the whole of an organization first and foremost, rather than simply “tech strategy,” and have support from the entire C-suite, not just the CIO. Organizations can then explore the opportunities created by convergence — from lower barriers to moving into new geographies or sectors, to greater ease in developing and scaling new offerings and capabilities — and build the next generation of business upon the new industrial infrastructure it creates.

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