Reasons Not To Make Decisions Today On Gut Instincts

instinct-strategic-decisionsI still know some entrepreneurs who boast of simply following their gut instincts, rather than listen to anyone or any data, to make strategic decisions. We’ve all worked with autocratic leaders in large companies who seem to thrive in this mode. They all forget or ignore the high-profile failures that have resulted from some single-handed business decisions.

One of the biggest in this decade was the merger of America Online (AOL) with Time Warner, engineered in the early 2000’s by Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin and AOL CEO Steve Case for a whopping $164 billion. Levin famously prevailed on his board and ignored everyone, but later admitted that he had presided over perhaps the worst deal of the century. Time Warner was forced to take a $99 billion loss only two years after the merger, and Levin was forced out. It’s been downhill from there.

A classic book by Thomas H. Davenport and Brook Manville, “Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams That Got Them Right” helped me put some structure around the better alternatives available today. I like the authors’ outline of four major trends which shape the new pattern for making good business decisions:

  1. The recognition that “none of us is as smart as all of us.” There is so much positive feedback on the value of involving customers in product development, and the use of social media for crowd feedback, at a very low cost, that’s it hard to argue that one person could have more insight alone, and be right more often.

  2. New models for “collaborative leadership” in organizations. The support for “open source” software and Wikipedia have pioneered other business archetypes based on open innovation, collaborative decision making, and flat hierarchies. The art of collaboration is now taught as a key success skill at every level within organizations.

  3. The use of data and analytics to support and make decisions. Intuition should never be ignored, but it should be supplemented by the growing wealth of data and analytic power available. The evidence is overwhelming that systematic analysis, not paralysis, leads to better decisions than intuition alone.

  4. Technology moves to the realms of knowledge, insight, and judgment. Ever-improving information technology makes possible the timely results and analytical decision support above. It allows for rapid capture and distribution of the many forms of explicit and implicit knowledge, derived directly from the base transactions.

All of these lead to a new paradigm of organizational judgment and decision making, to add some repeatable process and quantification to your intuition:

  • Decision making as a participative problem-solving process. Making important decisions is like any other problem to be solved, and must be approached with discipline and fact-based analysis. Smart executives seek collaboration with multiple points of view, including contrarian ones and stakeholders, before jumping off the cliff.
  • The opportunities of new technology and analytics. Technology and business intelligence are no longer the rarified provenance of “the geeks downstairs,” but are integral to decision making and the overall judgment exercised by executives at every level, whatever the industry or sector.
  • The power of culture. Organizations that practice great judgment have the basics embedded in their culture, including respect for problem-solving and leaders as facilitators of decisions, rather than monarchs. The also reward cultural change as analytical processes and technology evolves.
  • Leaders doing the right thing and establishing the right context. The role of the leader in creating organizational judgment is often first about reframing decisions as not their own exclusively. It’s also about building a team with the right mind-set, and giving them the responsibility and accountability to stand up and be counted.

Even the legendary Steve Jobs at Apple admitted to some early gut decisions which came back to haunt him, most notably his hiring of John Sculley to help him, who ultimately “destroyed everything I spent 10 years working for, starting with me.” It is said that at his second stint at Apple, Jobs relied much more on others in key decisions, but never sacrificed his values.

In my view, the days are long gone when a lone wolf at the top can make these key decisions, based primarily on intuition. Yet I still see too many executives in that mode most the time, usually driven by extreme passion and a large ego. Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at your own organization, and a hard look in the mirror, before your golden gut comes back to bite you in the butt.

Marty Zwilling

Business Complexity Goes Up Dramatically As You Scale

complexity-of-designMost of the entrepreneurs I advise today are ready to declare success when they get that first surge of traction with a real customer. This is a good sign, but they have no idea that the hard work of scaling the business is still ahead of them. It’s a bit like the heady first days after you’ve fallen in love, when you can’t imagine anything will ever kill that passion or commitment.

Scaling a business is fraught with risk and unknowns. You need to find investors for funding, vendors for volume manufacturing, processes for repeatable execution, as well as marketing and distribution to attract customers far beyond your pilot rollout. In fact, this is where your startup has to move from an initial project to a complex product business.

Based on my software career with IBM and several startups, I experienced the challenges and failures of scaling a software project to a business many times. I now realize that software has evolved to be key to the value of most products, including cars, airplanes, and appliances, as outlined in the new book, “Project to Product,” by Dr. Mik Kersten, currently CEO of Tasktop.

Dr. Kersten asserts, and I agree, that it doesn’t work today to manage software as a cost center inside a business – it is too integral to the value stream of the solution provided, most evident during scaling. He outlines five dimensions of scaling any business that introduce new levels of complexity, requiring tools with an overall view of business flows, processes, and value delivered:

  1. Adding more features to support a broader customer set. More features means more complexity, more experts, and specialized tools to facilitate the integration, testing, and support. What may have looked like an incidental cost in your base product will now grow to be a major impact on profitability, customer responsiveness, and time-to-market.

    For example, new car infotainment system options alone are fundamentally more complex in terms of features than entire software products were a few years ago, requiring millions of lines of code from multiple vendors, multiple languages, and UIs.

  2. Evolving from an initial solution to a product line for growth. As the number of products increase to attract a larger market share, the complexity increases exponentially to produce, distribute, and support the business. This means more suppliers, more interfaces, and more integration to manage, which is today the realm of software.

    BMW, for example, now has around 12,000 suppliers worldwide, for their many models, and each car now consists of over 30,000 parts. They produce a new car every seventy seconds, in the sequence of received customer orders. That’s a huge scaling challenge.

  3. Adding partners, with their own tools and specialists. You can’t manage partners in the same fashion as you manage your own internal teams and processes, so scaling the business through partners adds additional complexity. Communication at the digital level has to be done through formal software interfaces (APIs) that you never anticipated.

  4. Attracting new markets and market segments. Each market or market segment may require a new edition or configuration of the management system and software, again increasing complexity. The specialists to support these may speak different technical as well as communication languages, and be physically dispersed around the world.

    If a business sells to both business-to-consumer and business-to-business, it will need two separate support channels connected to multiple value streams. The opportunities for disconnects and disruptions go up again as the business scales to this level.

  5. Moving information platforms to the Internet cloud. Expanding businesses today forces a full dependency on storing and moving data through the cloud, exposing it to additional risk from security breaches and data loss. The tools and expertise to manage this risk require new and additional resources that most companies do not anticipate.

    Many businesses believe they will free up staff time and money by moving applications and data to the cloud, but end up facing spiraling costs as they underestimate the scale of such projects. Here again, it’s important to measure value, rather than project cost.

Businesses that are the current masters of scaling, including Amazon and Alphabet, are making the challenges harder for the rest of us by redefining the software technology landscape around their platforms. It behooves us all to keep up with these changes, manage the transition to a more software-centric world, and thrive in that world from a bottom line business perspective.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Inc.com on 12/03/2018 ***

11 Outdated SEO Tactics You Need to Retire

Just like most aspects of marketing and technology, search engine optimization has evolved over time.

Marketing strategies that were effective for your company five or ten years ago may not be as effective today. The same applies to SEO.

Search engines have changed the way they rank websites.

If your company hasn’t been staying up to date with the latest trends, your SEO strategy is outdated.

I see this problem all too often in my consulting work. Many companies still employ old strategies that no longer work.

That’s what inspired me to write this guide.

The outdated tactics on this list vary in terms of how they will affect your business.

Some of these are ineffective but harmless, while others could potentially hurt your SEO ranking.

Every business with a website needs to read this guide. Use it as a reference to see if you’re still using outdated SEO tactics and possibly hurting your SEO game.

1. Exact match domain names

Exact match domains were popular for a while.

With this strategy, websites were able to move up their search rankings very quickly. In some instances, rankings climbed in just weeks or even a few days.

As the name implies, the whole idea behind an exact match domain is that your website matches the keywords you’re targeting. For example:

  • detroitplumber
  • garagedoorpartsmiami
  • bestpizzanewyork

But Google adjusted its algorithm to make exact match domains obsolete. When it made this update back in 2012, the influence of exact match domains dropped nearly immediately:

EMD

Now, an exact match domain has the same chances of ranking as high or as low as any other domain name.

In fact, some of these exact match domains have a greater chance of being flagged by algorithms or manual reviews. Low-quality sites won’t be ranked high just because their domains are exact matches to the targeted keywords.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to brand a company with an exact match domain.

For example, think about Amazon. Imagine if it started with a domain like

“buyandsellbooksonline.”

That’s just not brandable. This strategy is less trustworthy, and it will make it increasingly difficult for you to build links.

Instead, you want to make it as easy as possible to increase your brand exposure by having a domain that’s brandable.

Don’t use exact match domains.

2. Link directories

For the most part, link directories are useless. There are some exceptions for niche-specific high quality directories.

This strategy worked before search engines become powerful.

People could find what they were looking for by using sites with directories.

These were easy for site owners to install and manage, and they increased in popularity. However, a link directory doesn’t provide actual value to website visitors.

That’s when search algorithms got adjusted to ignore link directories.

Now, having a link directory on your site can get you penalized if you have low-quality links. The same goes for article directories.

Marketers started to use software to submit articles to thousands of directories. But this low-quality content didn’t provide any value to people. It was a quick and simple way to build links.

Today, link and article directories are usually perceived as poor content, and they won’t help increase your search ranking.

3. Flat URL architecture

By default, WordPress will set up your pages with URLs like this:

http://yourdomain.com/page1

It may look simple and clean for your visitors, but it’s not helping your SEO.

If you don’t change these defaults, it will be challenging for search engines to understand the hierarchy of your website. SEO crawlers and bots will rate all your pages with the same level of importance, but that’s not what you want.

You need search engines to recognize the importance of each page compared to its relationship within other pages.

You can manually change your defaults to something like this instead:

http://yourdomain.com/category1/page1

Then, the hierarchy of your site architecture will make more sense.

architecture

Removing the flat URL structure will make it easier for crawlers to index your site, which ultimately will improve your SEO ranking.

Search engines will be able to learn the value of each page within your site.

I recommend making these adjustments sooner rather than later. If you change your architecture, you’ll also have to change all of the redirects which can potentially hurt your ranking.

4. Automated link building

Links clearly play an important role in SEO.

Once this was discovered, many marketers tried to take advantage of link-building software to maximize their domain exposure on as many other sites as possible. They did this so their sites would be recognized by search engine algorithms.

As a result, their links got randomly posted on forums, blog comments, link directories, and guestbooks.

While I’m an advocate of using automation to improve your operational efficiency, this isn’t where you should be using that strategy.

Link building is only effective if it’s high quality. You can’t automate this process.

You have to build strong relationships and create valuable content.

For alternative methods that work, check out my post on the process of consistently building backlinks every week.

5. Keyword stuffing

When search engines weren’t as complex as they are today, keyword stuffing worked.

Sites would just put dozens and dozens of keywords throughout new content. The problem with such keywording is it’s unnatural because it was only being done to improve the search relevance of the page.

This doesn’t work anymore.

As algorithms became more advanced, keyword stuffing lost its power. Now it just looks like you have low-quality content.

You can potentially be penalized for keyword stuffing as well.

A recent study from SEMrush showed the most important ranking factors:

keyword stuffing

While keywords make the list, they’re not nearly as important as the other aspects of SEO are.

In fact, 18% of domains that ranked for high-volume keywords didn’t have any keywords in the body. Only 3% of backlinks had anchor text with keywords.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t include keywords in your content. But you need to make sure that you’re using them sparingly and that your content is written to read naturally.

You’re much better off publishing valuable content without lots of keywords than low-quality content with too many keywords.

6. Keyword variation pages

Do not create a separate page for each variation of a keyword you’re trying to rank for. This strategy won’t work.

Search engine crawlers are smarter, so you don’t have to do this in order to target these variations.

Google’s AI system, RankBrain, can even detect and rank sites for keywords not displayed within the content.

For example, let’s say you create a landing page dedicated to your B2B audiences about boiler services. RankBrain will understand that this page will also be relevant to users who search for things like:

  • boiler cleaning
  • boiler maintenance
  • boiler inspection
  • boiler repair

You don’t need to have a separate page for each one of these keyword phrases. Having too many pages on your site will make your site navigation more difficult than it needs to be.

For this example, you’d just need to have one page. Then, you’d include a subheader for each one of these variations.

This strategy will make your content more relevant and improve your site navigation.

7. Paid links

The last thing you want to do is violate Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Buying links can improve your ranking, but not if you get caught. For this reason alone, I don’t think paid links are worth it.

Some of you may have bought a few links without getting penalized in the past, but don’t think that means you’re invincible.

Sure, you might be careful with the way you’re conducting your operation, but what about the seller?

According to Google, both the buyers and sellers are guilty. It describes such practice as a link scheme:

link schemes

If someone is selling to you, they’re probably selling to other sites as well.

All Google needs to do is catch one person, then follow the trail of links.

If an unnatural pattern of inbound links is identified and leads to another buyer, it can get traced back to the same seller you’re using. It’s very easy for you to get caught.

Build quality links the right way, and don’t try to take any shortcuts.

8. Building several interlinked sites

Some of you may own multiple businesses and websites. This seems like a good way to build links among them, right?

Not necessarily.

Interlinking sites need to be relevant to each other.

If you have a website selling camping equipment, it wouldn’t make sense to link to your other business offering credit loans.

You’re not rewarded for the total number of links you build. Relevant links hold more weight.

You might not be penalized for this, but it limits your opportunity and resources you can use for promoting your primary site.

However, there are certain times when this can be done properly.

For example, let’s say you have a commercial contracting company and a plumbing company. These are relevant to each other, so interlinking them would be fine.

I’ve seen some instances when people create multiple websites just for their link building strategy. This won’t work.

It’ll be difficult for you to manage this many sites for this purpose alone, so each one won’t have a high authority ranking.

Google will recognize this pattern, and your SEO ranking will suffer.

9. Prioritizing quantity over quality

Publishing ten pieces of new content a day is useless if they are all low-quality.

You’re much better off sticking to a publishing frequency you can handle without letting the quality suffer.

Write for people, not for bots. Writing for bots is unnatural.

As I said before, these new algorithms and site crawlers are becoming so advanced that they can distinguish between poor quality and high quality content.

Look at your blog for example. How long are your posts?

These are the average lengths of blog posts published over the last four years:

blog length

As you can see, the majority of these posts have 500-1,000 words.

But that doesn’t mean that’s your sweet spot. Longer blog posts are slowly trending upward each year.

For the most part, I would recommend going longer over shorter.

But don’t force a long blog post for the sake of increasing your word length. By nature, some topics will be longer or shorter than others.

But it’s definitely better to publish five 1,000-word posts a week as opposed to 50 100-word posts a week.

Those 100-word posts won’t be high quality. You can’t possibly address a topic properly in that length.

10. Irrelevant guest posts

Guest-blogging is another great way to build links, but you need to make sure you’re doing it properly.

Irrelevant posts won’t help you.

Instead, you should only be guest-blogging on sites that will increase exposure for your brand. You want to reach a new audience that falls within your target market.

The only way to do this is by publishing relevant content.

For example, I’m a content marketing expert. I have no business submitting my posts to cooking magazines.

It’s irrelevant to my personal brand, website, and target audience.

As I discussed earlier, Google will identify irrelevant links and potentially punish both parties.

Take this into consideration when managing guest posts on your site as well. You won’t want to publish irrelevant guest submissions for the same reasons.

11. Ignoring local SEO

It’s a misconception that you always need to focus on the big picture.

Many companies are just trying to get traffic and ranking by targeting mass audiences as opposed to their actual target market.

This is especially important to local business owners. If you have a local business, you should be prioritizing traffic from people in the area.

Don’t put too much emphasis on generating traffic from people out of your market.

Sure, traffic can improve your site ranking, but local SEO will be much more beneficial to your overall strategy.

Here’s a recent study from Search Engine Land looking at the factors of local SEO:

local SEO

Use this graph as a reference.

Are you making the right effort to improve your local SEO strategy?

If you’re ignoring these areas, it’s a big mistake.

Conclusion

SEO has changed. It’ll continue changing in the future.

If you are still using the outdated tactics on this list, it’s time for you to put those behind you.

You need to start implementing new tactics.

I’m referring to things such as voice search and mobile-first indexing. I’ll be coming up with more in-depth guides on those topics in the near future.

But for now, just worry about retiring the strategies on this list. They’re a waste of your time and could potentially be hurting your ranking.

What are some new SEO strategies your website has had success with?

Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars Lifts Student-Led Ventures With New Cohort Program

Being a student entrepreneur comes with a unique set of challenges. Student founders need guidance from a community that understands not just what it takes to build a company, but how to balance—and get the most out of—being both a full-time student and a full-time entrepreneur. As part of their mission to help student entrepreneurs succeed, Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars is launching the inaugural 2019 LaunchPad Lift Cohort, a personalized mentorship-driven program for LaunchPad student-led ventures from the United States and Ireland.

“The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program offers students valuable on-campus support through content and mentors. Through this program, Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, is dedicated to supporting those students through the entrepreneurial journey from inspiration to IPO,” said David Cohen, Co-CEO of Techstars.

LaunchPad Lift will help bridge the gap between the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars programming available on each college campus and the next big steps student-led ventures need for their companies. Whether the ventures are planning to apply to an accelerator program, raise capital, or make their first hire, the LaunchPad Lift Cohort takes ventures through a personalized experience with an assigned Techstars mentor to help them succeed. In addition, ventures will be exposed to experts from the Techstars network who will share their best practices on building a business.

We asked some of our LaunchPad student-led venture founders to tell us about the impact of the program. Here’s what one wrote: “Our Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars mentors have been critical to our success. Between mentorship and connections, we have grown and accelerated our progress tenfold by being a part of this community!”

We’re excited to announce that seven student-led ventures, who presented at the 2018 LaunchPad Training Camp, were selected to join the inaugural LaunchPad Lift Cohort. These seven ventures are from the LaunchPad Global Network and the founders represent seven schools in four states and two countries, with ventures in seven distinct industries. Additionally, over 50% of the startups in the 2019 LaunchPad Lift Cohort have diverse founding teams that include women and people of color.

Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars selected these ventures based on several factors: live pitches and peer voting at the LaunchPad Training Camp, mentor feedback, and a review process conducted by the Blackstone and Techstars team to assess the strength of each team’s business model and concept, coach-ability, and venture stage, as well as the team’s passion and their ability to fully utilize a mentor to grow.

“Over the course of the 2018 LaunchPad Training Camp, I had the opportunity to meet with ventures from over twenty universities, hear their pitches, and get to know the entrepreneurs. I was incredibly impressed by these student ventures—the diversity of ideas, the commitment to entrepreneurship, and the potential for scalable impact were all exceptional,” said Amy Stursberg, Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

LaunchPad Lift will run for 10 weeks, from January 28 through April 1, 2019. Each participating student-led venture will receive a $10,000 grant upon program completion, and join the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars team at a closing event in New York City.

Meet the Seven Ventures:

CALM (Temple): CALM is a small device that uses pulses of vibrations to influence the brain and de-escalate rising stress and anxiety attacks.

Combplex (Cornell): Combplex is an innovative solution to beekeepers’ number one problem, eliminating the parasites killing their bees.

Lazarus (Texas A&M): Lazarus provides a unique degree of lethality by designing projectiles that penetrate a threat, then minimize blood loss post-penetration in order to preserve life.

My Wellbeing (NYU): My Wellbeing connects therapy-seekers to compatible therapist and coach matches in NYC.

Petitas (USC): Petitas LA is a clothing brand by and for petite, professional women.

Shower Stream (UT Austin): The Shower Stream is a smart shower head adapter that installs as easily as a light bulb, saves water waste, proves the savings via the web, and is completely unobtrusive to the user.

NUA Surgical (NUI Galway): NUA Surgical is developing a novel medical device to make caesarean delivery a safer and more superior surgery.
   

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation and Techstars partnership increases the chances for collegiate ventures to succeed by ensuring they have the resources they need to thrive. The Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars entrepreneurship program is accessible by over 500,000 college students globally and designed to support and mentor students, staff, and alumni entrepreneurs regardless of major, experience, or discipline.

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Connecting The Dots At Techstars Startup Week Taiwan

By Lalitha Wemel, Regional Manager APAC + Matthieu Bodin, Regional Manager Greater China

Techstars Startup Week Taiwan, Powered by Taiwan Tech Arena and in partnership with the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology, was a five day startup community celebration, which brought together business leaders, funders, founders, and startup enthusiasts to celebrate Taiwan’s and Asia’s thriving innovation community. This week-long celebration hosted 55 events alongside 35 community partners, with 60 international and local speakers, across more than seven venues in the Taipei metropolitan area.

The tech startup ecosystem in Taiwan has grown dramatically in the past five years, with active participation and support from both the public and private sectors. Startup Week Taiwan was a great showcase of what can be jointly achieved when the Taiwan tech startup ecosystem comes together, bringing folks from every corner of the community including universities, startups, ecosystem builders, corporations, and investors.

As cliche as it sounds, our most significant takeaway from the first Techstars Startup Week Taiwan was the program’s ability to “connect the dots”—between people, programs, community and knowledge. Over and over, we heard people describing this as the highlight of the community celebration we had this past week.

Although he originally Intended to only attend one event early in the week, Jeremy Firster, like many other participants, ended up engaging in multiple full-day sessions for the remainder of the week. “I just kept finding new valuable insights on different problems that I’ve been having in my startup that Startup Week Taiwan was able to address and shed new perspectives on,” Firster said.

Echoing Jeremy’s sentiment about the quality of programs and people across the week, Taiwanese startup founder Henry Chang (Fufilo) discovered a whole new network of international and local people that brought new knowledge, perspectives, and networks to help take his his startup forward: “It’s like I’ve been living in a cave, and Startup Week Taiwan helped me see the light.”

Startup Week Taiwan, which took place December 3–7, 2018, offered free learning opportunities to business owners and startup enthusiasts of all kinds. The event is community-driven and offered attendees access to dozens of programs, influential keynote speakers, and funding opportunities. Businesses and entrepreneurs of every type and stage came together over five days to build momentum and opportunity and to activate Taiwan’s startup community further.

“Having a partner like Techstars allowed us to tap into a new resource of experience and talent to channel into Taiwan’s ecosystem. It helped us create a week of high-quality curriculum, content, and takeaways for partners and participants alike. We are looking forward to working with more partners together in the upcoming year to build a strong tech startup community here,” said Rich Fuh, Partnership Director of Taiwan Tech Arena.

From ‘learning how to leverage your LinkedIn network’ to ‘understanding how to get into a global accelerator program’ to ‘expanding your knowledge on different startup communities and topics’, Startup Week Taiwan 2018 aimed to truly showcase the diversity of people and knowledge that Taiwan’s growing startup community has to offer.

Techstars Startup Week Taiwan 2018 was made possible by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) of Taiwan and Taiwan Tech Arena and supported by many generous sponsors, community partners, speakers, and participants. Check out our round-up of the week:

***

If you are interested in being part of Techstars Startup Week Taiwan 2019, drop us a line at taiwan@startupweek.co.

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