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Three Keys to the Start-up Revolution

General Blogs 10 septembre 2014 Par Martin Yan Staff

You've got a good idea. In fact, it's brilliant. The market is currently lacking XYZ, and you've got just the right product or service that is going to be the first or best to address it. 
 
So, you and a bunch of your hired-hand friends who are equally brilliant start this thing from scratch in your basement. After several months of coding, calls to strangers and branding meetings, you win your first customer. Finally, there is a customer who is forward-thinking enough to see the glory of our offering, you think to yourself. 
 
Now, you have the attention of venture capitalists and you're garnering a little buzz inside some circles. This could be the next big thing. You're reaching for the stars.

But then comes a decisive time in every start-up where it's make it or break it. How do you take your company to that next level?
 
As an avid consumer and observer of industry trends, with four years of experience working for a company that grew exponentially from its start-up days, I've caught onto a few patterns of successful companies. Here, I want to share three essential points that will help you to make the jump over to the mainstream. 
 
1) Define your value proposition and keep it simple
 
Your product could be the best in the market. Or it could be the first in the market. Perhaps your product does not offer as many features or tools as the top competitor, but you're selling the fact that it's much more affordable. Whatever your company's vision or mission, this needs to be clear and well-defined or chances are you won't go far. This principle applies to both internal and external communications. Make sure everyone within the organization is on the same page so that hiring decisions, product development and budgets are all aligned with the expressed purpose. For the consumers, develop a simple yet catchy motto so that it's easy to pick up quickly and remember within a crowded marketplace. 
 
2) Ensure a good-quality product that can roll out to the public
 
When you initially create a product or service, you have the freedom and ability to customize it according to the vision of your first customers, catering to their every whim and fancy. However, once you set your sights on the mass market, you have to standardize your product offering. The challenge is to shift your focus from the demands of visionaries to the expectations of pragmatists (early majority) who will become the main revenue stream for your company. This is a delicate balance as you work with your internal developers and product team to separate the core features from the non-essential. Nevertheless, this step is fundamental in crossing over to the mainstream.
 
3) Capture the interest of one specific vertical or segment
 
There is a temptation to be everything to everyone. This is a surefire way to fail or, at best, remain middle of the pack. In order to make a name for yourself, you have to rally a group of loyal and supportive fans within a certain segment or base. Once you establish a stronghold, you can use it as the hub from which to branch out and reach other shores. For example, say you are creating portal software to solve issues such as accessibility and employee engagement within the HR sector. The product takes off and after a few years, you have gained a strong share of the HR market. The recognition you would have amassed for your work with HR (or any particular group) will now give you the credibility to expand into another sector or product offering. In essence, you are leveraging the merit from previous work to help establish ground in new territory.
 
It should go without saying that mastering these steps do not necessarily guarantee your start-up will be the next tech titan. But these principles should help push you closer to the next level of growth and success. In any case, remember the marketplace is crowded and cutthroat—if you are wise, diligent and resourceful, you just might rise above.

The Power of the Internal Customer

General Blogs 20 août 2014 Par Martin Yan Staff

The customer is always right. If you've been around the American marketplace long enough, you should be familiar with the phrase. It's the idea upon which the best restaurants and companies look to pride themselves to ensure all patrons are treated with utmost care and respect, and when entangled in a complaint, to side reasonably with the customer. This heavy emphasis on serving external customers makes sense: they are the ones who sustain our company and profit margins.

Yet there is growing awareness within corporate circles of the need to address another group: internal customers. Internal customers are officially defined as those who are directly connected to your company and most likely work within the company. Think of them as your employees and stakeholders. It might seem strange to think of your employees as customers since you're paying for their services. But the employees you hire are choosing to ascribe to and consume some sort of culture and work environment provided by your company. And if it is not a good environment, your workers will be less motivated to turn in their best work and could ultimately bolt for another gig.

Winning companies understand the power of the internal customer. In his book, Delivering Happiness, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh mentions that "a company's core values ultimately define the company's character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.” Hsieh is famous for creating a fun and refreshing work culture which landed Zappos on Fortune’s list of "The Best Companies to Work For." When you start at the root of creating the right infrastructure for the internal customer to succeed, then the natural result is better quality service and product for the external customer. Before you know it, employees will go the extra mile to ensure clients are satisfied.

So, how do you empower your internal customers to achieve more? What plans or services could you provide to help your employees thrive?

Here are three tips to help guide you in the right direction:

1) Provide effective mentorship throughout the organization

When certain employees aren't performing, lack of qualifications or motivation usually come up as popular reasons. But another reason might also be tied to your failure to set them up properly to succeed. Mentoring involves counseling and training the employee to develop their professional skill sets. When you provide good coaching, you are effectively setting a roadmap for your employee's career development. This relationship will help groom employees to become new leaders while fostering trust and confidence between both parties. 

2) Allow a forum for open and constructive feedback

When you create an environment where honesty is valued, then you can expect work quality to improve and the environment to be more harmonious. Processes will be improved, backbiting will be reduced, and grievances will be settled. Employees will also feel more valued for their thoughts and opinions, regardless of title or pay. At Liferay HQ, nobody owns an office or cubicle, including the C-levels. We all work amongst one another, sitting in rows of desks without walls, free to go back and forth with those around us. This will also curb "groupthink" which can greatly hinder growth and innovation. The best ideas in the room sometimes come from the person whom you may least expect.  

3) Show them you really care through action

Appreciation goes a long way and comes in many different forms. It could be as simple as acknowledging an employee's stellar work through an email or as elaborate as throwing a company-wide party. The important thing is that your employees know and feel how much you value them. As you recognize their unique contributions as both a worker and person, the work atmosphere will begin to feel more like family and less like a sterile office space where people just clock in and clock out. Different teams and departments will get each other's back and band together to achieve one common goal: an ultimate win for all.

Providing a culture in which employees can thrive and excel is just as important as serving the external customer. The corporations that understand this will be hiring, growing and keeping talent far above the rest of the competition—which will greatly benefit the external customer, too.

*****

Liferay: Nerd On The Street is a blog devoted to sharing new ideas about business and technology. To continue the discussion, post your thoughtful insights below.

Nerd On The Street: Q&A with James Falkner

General Blogs 5 août 2014 Par Martin Yan Staff

As a thought-leadership blog, NOTS is striving to disseminate knowledge and spread out to the masses like a wicked disease. Here we sat down with Liferay Community Manager James Falkner to shoot the breeze about what's going on in the world of tech and business.
 
James, we're very glad to have you on this afternoon. How is the Liferay Community doing so far in 2014?
 
JF: Since the opening of the Marketplace, we’ve seen a pretty big resurgence in our developer community. To date we have almost 200 apps developed by our community, and over 800 registered developers. Compare that to the 100 or so contributors to Liferay itself, and you can see what our community has been up to this year! Of course we like to see any kind of contribution, whether it’s an app, bug fix, new feature, translation, or any of the other community contribution that helps make Liferay great. So we are ramping up our efforts to improve the developer experience in the community.
 
Since you’ve got your fingers on the pulse of the community and tech industry, what’s got everyone talking these days?
 
JF: One of the big ones in our industry is the Internet of Things (IoT). You're talking about all these objects and devices now being inter-connected and huge streams of data, and so the question is how to make sense of it all?
 
Sounds exciting, but what does the IoT have to do with portals?
 
JF: Since IoT results in a lot more information being available and accessible, the question now is who can present that information in a way that would be easily digestible? Who can take it the next level and visualize and provide access to the right things? Basically, the IoT is a land grab, and portals are uniquely positioned to integrate with powerful backend data processing systems and layer on a great user experience on top of the incoming deluge of data.
 
What does this mean for open source technologies?
 
JF: IoT is even more of a land grab for the underlying tools that collect, process, and store IoT data, and unfortunately, interoperability is not top-of-mind for early adopters of technology, so we often end up with walled gardens, places you can experience a new technology, but only by getting locked into one vendor’s vision. As an open source industry, we want to try and minimize the walling of these gardens, so to speak, and heavily favor standards for IoT infrastructure and software services. The existence of new technology provides new opportunities for everyone. Being open source, and employing open standards, really means allowing greater accessibility for developers to innovate. 
 
I'm intrigued by this topic because everything is about the comprehensive digital experience. We can no longer stay within these traditional silos we've set up for ourselves. How should we expect people to consume information going forward?
 
JF: I think of our very own CEO Bryan Cheung's keynote when you speak of that. He mentioned the example of tailored suits. You go in, get measured, fabrics perfect to your liking, and if the guy's cool he'll probably ask you about your wife and kids. It's awesome because you know that suit will fit you perfectly once it's done, and that's top personalized service. Mass marketing with the Internet is now presenting that same opportunity. It's a huge opportunity but hard to capitalize on because of the large scale. You're talking about built-in context, associated with each user. What pages you've lingered on, what sorts of interactions you're having on them, and so forth.
 
Portals are great places for that. Liferay is headed in that direction. Obviously, as a portal we are top of the stack, the storefront if you will, so we have access to the back-end systems that portals are designed to talk to. We're in a unique position in that experience because we know everything in a sense. We're just trying to put everything in a cohesive way to delight our customers.
 
A recent Forrester report said an evolving pattern is the seemingly downward trend of IT in terms of ownership and decision making. Where do you stand on that?
 
JF: Well, it's like the whole thing with TV repair shops. Back in the day, it used to cost tons of money to buy a TV, so if it broke, you took it to this shop to fix it. Now it's cheaper to just buy a new one, so TV repair shops are no longer there. The analogy here is if your project needs a website, do you call IT or do you go grab some open source software and deploy it to the cloud, and download an app to your own device and use it to sync files? So, you might say IT is getting cut out of some loops, but I don't think it's a mass departure from IT or that we don't need IT. I think the marketplace is just providing apps and processes which are easier to implement, things like cloud connectivity. But like I said, it's not going to go away. There are enough issues around privacy, network security, and software support costs that absolutely keeps IT relevant.
 
You’ve been hard at work promoting the Liferay Marketplace App Contest. Do you see a shift in the type of apps contributed in Liferay Marketplace or types of contributions we see in the community in general?
 
JF: With the recently releases e-commerce capability, we're starting to see more feature-rich apps and more longer-term developers and companies contributing some really great things — I can't wait to see how the Marketplace contest turns out this year! As for community contributions to Liferay, the platform itself continues to become more modular, like with the ongoing OSGi work for example, and more approachable to Open Source developers. Different parts of the platform are starting to be isolated, with many more to follow, which is attracting a new generation of OSS developers and allowing them to contribute without fear of breaking other parts. This will also make it possible to test these modules exhaustively, or make sure a certain bug is fixed for sure. We are bringing developers back to the platform, baby!
 
Well, there you have it. Thanks James for dropping by and spending some time with the little folks!
 
*****
 
Liferay: Nerd On The Street is a blog devoted to sharing new ideas about business and technology. To continue the discussion, post your thoughtful insights below.

What Thinking Like LeBron James Can Do For Your Company

General Blogs 21 juillet 2014 Par Martin Yan Staff

 
LeBron James has something to teach us about how to be a championship-caliber business. Let me explain.
 
On July 11, James sent a jolt through the sports world with three simple words: I'm coming home. The NBA superstar, in a moving letter published on si.com, announced his plan to return to the team which drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This seems like a logical move on the surface. After all, the Cavs have a younger roster with talent plus the salary cap space to offer him a max contract. 
 
But James is on a greater mission—one that goes beyond titles or money. By returning to his hometown, James looks to help revitalize the city and restore a sense of civic pride. He hopes that one day some of the kids he mentored "will come home after college and start a family or open a business." To a region that has suffered through many hardships, James speaks of hope and redemption. And he understands his homecoming as part of a greater plan. With this decision, James is redefining his legacy and gaining many supporters who are rooting for him to bring a title to Cleveland.
 
What LeBron James has achieved is the same thing that many companies haven't fully defined—a clear vision and purpose. Essentially, the key to organizational and individual success boils down to these ideals. As author and speaker Simon Sinek describes it, the combination of the what, why and how are the most important elements in defining who we are—but we must start with why. We must ask ourselves, Why do we do what we do? What is our purpose for our daily activities or tasks? What truly drives our organization and compels us to perform well? 
 
Consider the vision as the root from which all other branches and leaves grow. If the vision of your organization is simply to turn a profit, then the actions and decisions of your company will revolve around that goal. Don't be surprised if employees cut a few corners with clients to fatten their own pockets. Or your product quality might begin to suffer because cheaper parts were used to maximize the margins. These actions would be a natural extension of a vision rooted in money.
 
But what if you stood for something beyond yourself? Then you are no longer just a brand, but a mission. The companies that are exceptional get this. Think Apple. Certainly, they've produced one amazing tech product after another, but their vision is to reach a new generation with ideas. To galvanize a world with a call to "think different." Remember this—brands might come and go, but missions never die.
 
Interestingly enough, like LeBron James, Liferay was committed to a greater hope in Ohio. (This might be the only time you hear LeBron and Liferay in the same sentence.) About eight months ago, we launched a Sales office based out in Hamilton. It was not a decision based solely on strategy—we also wanted to help rejuvenate the local region by creating job opportunities and stimulating economic growth. For some, New York or San Francisco would have made more business sense. But for us, it made perfect sense. At the heart of Liferay's vision is an idea of "for life", which means we exist to impact the world community. Which is one of the many reasons I love working here. 
 
Whether you're an entrepreneur or member of a corporate ecosystem, the challenge is to define a clear vision that people believe in. And it starts with understanding your purpose and your place in the greater culture. If you can execute on these fundamentals, the rest should be a slam dunk.
 
*****

Liferay: Nerd On The Street is a blog devoted to sharing new ideas about business and technology. To continue the discussion, post your thoughtful insights below.

Emergence of the Honest Economy

General Blogs 9 juillet 2014 Par Martin Yan Staff

There is a strong narrative emerging in the marketplace. Increasingly, companies are offering a more "behind-the-scenes" look into their organizations. Corporate social media pages are adopting personas to help bridge the gap between product and consumer. Commercials are featuring more real-life stories and individuals instead of actors. In this era of the honest economy (a term coined by Marcus Sheridan), companies have learned it pays to appear more authentic to consumers.

One might suppose it all started back in 2008, when the global economy tanked. It is easy to measure the losses by the numbers. Large corporations and businesses bled billions of dollars overnight, and thousands of jobs were cut. But something more than just figures was lost.

Whatever trust and goodwill from the general public was no longer assumed. There was a general distrust of huge conglomerates, and people called for the responsible parties to be held accountable for their greed and unscrupulous practices, as evidenced by the Occupy movements and WikiLeaks scandals. Consumers spent less and grew more cautious in their investments. What they were looking for went beyond the thin, professionally-polished veneer. What it boiled down to was a call for transparency. 

Many corporations have since stepped up to the challenge. In equal parts efforts to rebuild their businesses and restore public image, companies have started candid dialogues with consumers. In the honest economy, the players who appear the most transparent about their business are the ones winning the most customers. Vendors like McDonald's started listing the calorie count for each of their burgers and meals. CarMax created a system with thorough reports and fact-checks. Even non-profits have followed suit—charity: water aims to show you exactly where every penny of your donation is going.

In similar fashion, Liferay strives to keep the doors open to the community. As an open source product, Liferay Portal is built on the premise that there is no secret sauce. The product built by the engineers is shipped into the community to download, consume, and enhance on their own. As a business that is ever-evolving, Liferay seeks to collaborate and create a dependable product that could impact your realm of business.

Is your business striving to be transparent in the way it conducts business or sells its products? If not, see this as an opportunity to start a clear line of communication with your audience. As the marketplace continues to evolve, the language that will most resonate with consumers is not one of slickness but authenticity. 

*****

Liferay: Nerd On The Street is a blog devoted to sharing new ideas about business and technology. To continue the discussion, post your thoughtful insights below.

*Photo Credit: Kenneth Dong Photography

The Portrait of Your Business on a Busy Canvas

General Blogs 14 octobre 2013 Par Martin Yan Staff

 
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." - Pablo Picasso
 
My job as a marketer has never been more fun and challenging. The conversation in the marketplace has evolved drastically since I started my career three years ago. Whereas advertising was once considered a direct line for a company to pitch to consumers, effective marketing nowadays involves thoughtful and engaging dialogue between both parties. In essence, it is a call for marketers to be storytellers. 
 
It is apparent that with the advent of social media and the continual innovation of technology, our worlds are becoming smaller and running faster. With all the noise out there, there is a need to rise above. Is it enough to present a product that features "this many tools out of the box" and "that compatibility with (blank) server?" In a crowded marketplace, companies are asked to be more than just a product offering--or risk sounding the same as everyone else.
 
Stories are important because they help us to genuinely connect with one another. It is a form of art that is unique because no one person or brand's story is the same. In his speech at Inbound 2013, Seth Godin stressed how art and creativity in business is needed now more than ever before. "Connection is made through art because no one wants to connect with someone who is doing exactly what they were doing yesterday," he said. "This is how you earn connections in the new economy." 
 
The companies that understand this are the ones excelling in this new age of marketing. They are weaving together pictures, words, and sounds to create personalities that make their brand come alive. Chipotle did this recently with one of their campaigns. In a short animated video, they were able to share their vision of better farming practices and to effectively stand for something. The idea is that the next time you purchase a meal from their chain, you aren't just buying a burrito, but also making a statement about what you believe in and how you are supporting a greater cause. Companies and brands that are doing this, creating meaningful narratives, are distinguishing themselves from the rest and quickly rising to the top.
 
So, how are you contributing to your company's greater story? What are you doing in your role to create a culture of creativity, innovation, and art? Take some time to reflect about how you can contribute to the broader narrative. If you are willing to engage and delight your audience, chances are they will reciprocate and be more inclined to give back to you. 
 
After all, in this day and age, it pays to be an artist.
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