The Will of the American People

I wish I had something clever to say. I don’t. Yesterday the US, myself included, did something it does every four years and every four years it is significant. But yesterday was different. The election of Barack Obama as the next President proves again to the world that America is different. I’m not saying I live in the most progressive nation. I’m saying that with the wealth and with the military power there is a living conscience.

The world may not like the US Government, but almost everyone admires the will of the people. 

Why Voting Matters

Voting matters because it is the most scrutinized information in the world. That is strictly opinion but I would bet on it. Corporations don’t know as much about as the people that analyze voting records. Because of this scrutiny voting is paramount. Planning how campaigns are run and how candidates communicate are all contingent on who votes. So even if you don’t know who these people are care who wins, it is important to vote because the following election season will have a better understand of who you are and perhaps what matters to you.

Please Vote!

Simple Entrepreneur Rules and an Innovative Golf Offering

There are two entrepreneurial entries I really liked from GigaOm that I accessed from the NY Times. The first is Paul Polak: 15 Rules for Business Success in Any Market by Carleen Hawn and the second is UGC + Golf Tips = MyTourSwing.com by Chris Albrecht.

Paul Polak is a serial entrepreneur. He’s succeeded and he’s failed. He has enough experience to create some fairly simplisitic rules for starting a business. Here they are (pulled from GigaOm):

The 12 Steps to Practical Problem Solving:
1. Go where the action is.

“Spend significant time with your customers. This is how you learn what
they need,” he says. Not hours, days. Polak lived with his farmers for
6 months.
2. Interview at least 100 customers a year.
You
do it. Not an employee. Listen to what they have to say. “Too many
entrepreneurs build the product they want to build — not the one that’s
needed.”
3. Context matters. If your solution isn’t right for
the context, for example, if it costs too much for the customers you’re
trying to serve, you won’t succeed.
4. Think big. Act big.
5. Think like a child.
6. See and do the obvious. Others won’t, which is opportunity for you.
7. Leverage precedents. If somebody has already invented it, don’t do it again.
8. Scale. Your business must have potential to scale. Remember, your market must include at least 1 million customers.
9. Design to specific cost and price targets. Not the
other way around. (Celeste: it means — Do not price to your design,
design to the price you need to hit to make your product appropriate to
your customer.).
10. Follow practical three-year plans. Two years is too short. Ten is too long.
11. Visit your customers again. And again. “Any
successful business in this country is based on talking to your
customers all the time. A good CEO spends half his time ‘in the field.’”
12. Stay positive. Don’t be distracted by what other people think.

You can read more about these rules in Polak’s book, “Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail.”

Next is the MyTourSwing.com piece. I really like the innovated way to do golf lessons. Basically, you video yourself and post to a website. Others can comment on what you are doing wrong and you can pay to get professional teachers to send you direct criticisms and advice. Most of the time an entrepreneur doesn’t need to create something never offered before, all they have to do is offer something that could be possibly mundane a new way. The golfer community is always looking for easy ways to improve. Sometimes it is special brush tees. Sometimes it is alignment training aides. Sometimes it is a special golf balls. And sometimes it is a website. There are millions of golfers looking for a easy fix. Curiosity will get the ball rolling.

Heating Oil Prices Receding Just in Time

A theme of mine is energy innovation and heating oil is a very direct barometer of the situation. City Room blog on NYTimes.com The other day ran a piece that lines up well with my pet project of following heating costs. The piece is called A Happier Ending for One Oil Heat Customer and it talks about the need for heating oil companies to be compassionate to those that locked in heating oil prices when they were at their apex. A company named Petro was called out specifically for its good customer service. Here is an excerpt from Jim DiLeo, president and co-owner, Beato Fuel:

“If you want to keep an account, you need to have good will,” Mr. DiLeo
said. “The only way you keep customers is to remain flexible.”

Competition in the space is improving and one avenue is a website called Heatingoil4less.com. This site aggregates suppliers and their offered prices. Customers can order through the site and pay a type of processing fee ($6.99).
Another website worth noting is one supplied by a reader called http://www.utilitybillassistance.com. It is a type of dashboard site listing ways to save on heating costs this winter.

I started writing about the cost of heating oil over the summer when prices were high. I expected a government intervention in the prices but the sour economy stepped in instead. Here are links to my prior writings and a few others:

Will Heating Bills Kill the US Economic Rally? (9/2/08)
Another Writer Sounding the Heating Oil Alarm (8/16/08)
Update on Heating Oil and China Growth (8/6/08)
The Fuel Cost Balance (8/4/08)
Oil Attention Too (5/27/08)
Oil Attention (5/14/08)

Two Entrepreneur Resources

I live in North Carolina and we have early voting. Yesterday, for the sake of democracy, I waited in line for two hours and cast my ballet. During my wait I accessed my blackberry internet and read some good posts from the NY Times in the Small Business section. Two articles I really liked were How to Avoid Becoming a Failure Statistic by Paul Brown and Inspiration Can Be Found in Many Places, but You Need to Be Looking by Mickey Meece. Here is what I liked about each:

How to Avoid Becoming a Failure Statistic
This is a no nonsense quick read that cuts through the BS of oversimplified cliches like “Just think success and you’ll be successful.” This read should be a wake up call for anyone who thinks they have everything figured out, because there is a good chance you don’t. And finally, the best thing about it is the very first segment – sometimes your business fails not because of luck or timing, but because of you, the owner. It is hard to look in the mirror sometimes.

Inspiration Can Be Found in Many Places, but You Need to Be Looking
Kris Kimel created something called the Idea Festival. It is an event specifically for inventors and entrepreneurs.

Carving out time to find inspiration may seem unrealistic to a
small-business owner working 90 hours a week. But Mr. Kimel said it
must be done to find and keep a competitive edge.

“You cannot
afford to say, ‘I don’t have the time to get out of my little circle
here to understand what’s going on,’ ” Mr. Kimel said. “You can’t make
the mistake of thinking the only place you’ll learn is from colleagues
who are doing exactly what you’re doing.”