The odds against a successful new venture are sizable. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking the chance. In this edition of Tough Things First, Ray Zinn and guest host Rob Artigo discuss Ray’s list of roadblocks and what you need to do to increase your odds of succeeding.
Rob Artigo: Welcome back to another edition of Tough Things First podcast. I’m guest host Rob Artigo, writer and entrepreneur in California. Hi, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hello, Rob. So good to have you with us today.
Rob Artigo: And it’s always good to be back. I grew up with the original Star Wars movie and I am a fan of the character Han Solo. In one scene, he says to his robot, or, rather, the robot says to him, something about the odds and then he replies, “Never tell me the odds.” So, he has the luxury of being in a movie where he can always beat the odds whether he knows them or not. We don’t really have that luxury, do we?
Ray Zinn: That’s a screenwriter’s advantage. He can make it come out however he wants.
Rob Artigo: That’s right. Well, the odds of success in a new adventure is something like 1 in 10, and that’s not a very good, I guess, outcome, or if you want to sit there and say, “My odds are 1 in 10 that I’ll succeed,” that doesn’t sound like a very good percentage. You’ve created one of your great lists, and these are always helpful to me because I always like to collect them and use them for self-evaluation and I find out that if I’m looking at either my business or my personal conduct and I look at the list, I can find out am I weak in a certain area? Have I considered this in a certain area? Where am I maybe falling short?
So, with that in mind, Ray, here’s your list of what you need to do to increase your odds of success. Number one, a highly differentiated product or service. What do you mean by that?
Ray Zinn: If you look at trying to increase your odds of success, having a mainstream product or something that is not really competitive is not going to increase your odds of success. So, what I mean by a highly differentiated product or service is something that is different, unique. Something that will catch the eye of the customer. Something that they feel they just have to have, and I think that’s been one of the reasons that many companies don’t succeed is because they really haven’t thought through the highly differentiated part. They just want to get out on their own, be their own boss, and so they just start up a business.
My son, for example, years ago, he just wanted to be on his own, and so he left a very successful job and started this company repairing air conditioners. Of course, there’s a lot of people doing that and he didn’t really think about how he highly differentiated himself by just offering the same service. But once he got into the business, he said, “Well, now, I gotta … How do I differentiate myself?” That’s too late. In other words, you want to differentiate yourself before you start your business, not after you’re stuck in the business and then have to work your way out of it because you spend more time just trying to run the business and not trying to figure out how you’re going to differentiate yourself.
So, that’s what I mean by having a highly differentiated product or service.
Rob Artigo: Also, number two on your list of things you can do to increase your odds for success is have enough cash in your business to sustain until profitability.
Ray Zinn: And that’s important because if you’re gonna spend all your time looking for money or raising money, you’re not running your business. I’ve talked to a number of start-ups and even companies that have been out seven or eight, nine, ten years and they’re still raising money. They’re in the rounds F or G or, I mean, they’re constantly raising funds to stay alive, and so the more time you spend raising money, the less time you’re spending running and growing your business.
So, that’s what I mean by don’t start your business until you have at least enough money to take you to profitability.
Rob Artigo: All right. So, what you need to do to increase your odds for success is one, a highly differentiated product or service. Two, enough cash to sustain until profitability, and now three, a great team of dedicated employees. Tell me about that.
Ray Zinn: Yes, so that’s key because having a poor team or a team that’s not committed is not gonna help you grow your business. So, selecting the right people, those that are compatible, is extremely important in seeing that your business succeeds, and I spent a lot of time when I started Micrel making sure that I had the right team on board and I think that was a hallmark of Micrel, was our ability to really attract the very best people. Bees are attracted to honey, so you’re gonna make sure that you gotta lot of honey in your company so you attract the right kind of bees to that company, and so that’s what I mean by having a very, very good company, good employees.
Rob Artigo: That ties in with number four on the list, a great and well-defined company culture, because those employees are gonna exist in that culture and they go hand-in-hand.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. A culture is so important to keep the employees happy and motivated. I just had somebody at my home Saturday who used to be an employee of the company and most of you know that I sold my company a couple years ago, and they had to go out and look for other jobs and one of the things they mentioned to me on Saturday was, “Now, we just haven’t been able to find a company with the same culture that we had at Micrel,” and I said, “Well, you know, is that the culture you want?” and they said “Absolutely,” and I said, “Well, then you have to keep looking, then, until you find the company that has that kind of culture,” and she said, “Well, so far, I haven’t been able to do it.”
She did take a job, but she was not happy with the culture, and so having the right culture in your company will keep your employees loyal and motivated.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, and again, that’s number four, a great and well-defined company culture, so well-defined has to be there as well, that everybody understands it exists and that example you just gave is proof that at Micrel, you definitely had a well-defined company culture, because it was tangible and it was something that people carried with them when they left.
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Rob Artigo: So, number five is a really easy one, read the book Tough Things First. We usually don’t talk about the book per se. I mean, we mention it on the podcast frequently, but we don’t normally talk at length about the content of the book. How can the book increase our odds of success?
Ray Zinn: I’ll do this by starting out by talking about a gentleman, an older gentleman, he’s in his 80s, and he’s actually retired, but he said that he bought the book. I didn’t know at the time he had, he actually brought it over for me to sign, and he was holding it in his hand kind of shaking it and says, “If I had had this book when I was back in … when I started my company, I would have been a success,” and so he was just saying how the … He said that, “Too bad that aren’t you getting those to more students and others learning and reading this book,” you know, and I said, “Well, I’m trying,” and the book really does cover a lot of factors and elements of running a successful company because being Silicon Valley’s longest-serving CEO, I have over 37 years’ experience running a company and this is all my background, all my experience in running Micrel for 37 years, I put into the book.
We were profitable 36 out of 37, which is really a record, being profitable for so many years. So, the book really contains all the elements that I think are important to having a successful business, and that’s why I put down this as the last one and read my book Tough Things First. Not that I’m trying to make money on it, ’cause that’s not it. It’s a good educational book, good one for the students and the institutions that are higher learning, it can benefit from to help these young people as they enter the workforce become more successful.
And, of course, the title of the book really says it all, doing the tough things first, or eating the ugly frog first. So, that’s the title and I say in my book and I’ll say it on the air that if you can learn to do the tough things first every day, you’ll get 20 percent more done, so who wouldn’t want to improve their efficiency by 20 percent? Now the reason, by the way, that you can get more done is you get rid of those ugly, difficult … eat that ugly frog, get rid of it. Then you have time to spend doing the more interesting and fun things because when we get the tough things first, get them done and get them out of the way, then they are not weighing on our mind. We’re not being, “Oh, I gotta get back and I gotta go do this,” or whatever. It weighs on us, all these difficult tasks.
So, when you get up in the morning, make that list of all the ones you don’t want to do and then do them first, get them out of the way, and the rest of the day will be so much more effective and you’ll get a whole lot more done.
Rob Artigo: Good advice, Ray. Thank you.
Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob.
Rob Artigo: Of course, you can get the book at Amazon. You can also get more information on Ray Zinn at toughthingsfirst.com, which is also some links to information on Facebook and LinkedIn, and where else, Ray?
Ray Zinn: On Twitter.
Rob Artigo: And Twitter, of course.
Ray Zinn: And if you have any questions or any thoughts about what we’ve been talking about, please let me know. Please write me or call me and let me know what you think.
Rob Artigo: Don’t be shy. Thanks, Ray.
Ray Zinn: You’re welcome. Thanks, Rob.