Saturday, January 18, 2020

Pivot

This post includes one of my favorite items:  hummus.  It is also about an entrepreneur who recognizes the need to pivot due to customer feedback and becomes very successful. 

The article is from Entrepreneur and highlights the struggles of Jesse Wolfe and his firm, O'Dang Hummus.  

As we know from reading the article, he faced the same challenges other start-up firms have when competing in the food industry and retail sales.  The article notes that Mr. Wolfe overcame the initial issues of product development, testing, reevaluating, and getting on a supermarket shelf.  But he still did not meet his expectations. 

Unlike others who fail, he learned from his product testing and found another avenue.  It required him to significantly revise the final product, but he could have never done it without customer feedback. Sometimes we forget that the customer can offer insights others simply cannot see.  Mr. Wolfe heard them and acted accordingly. 

I think you will enjoy the article. It is authored by Jason Feifer.  Mr. Feifer does an excellent job carrying you through Wolfe's journey. 

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/341808

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Technology at its Best or Why Didn’t I Think of That?


Short answer to the question above. I am not that smart.

From previous posts you know I read several business magazines.  This is one of my favorite articles in Forbes.  It combines extensive research, answering a burning question, growing an economy, and innovative adaption of technology all in one article.

One key point, you will never look at your mobile phone the same way again. 

The article is about Shivani Siroya and her challenges and success in launching Tala.  Tala makes small loans through a smartphone app.

Ms. Siroya’s background and experience are highly unique and positioned her to form Tala.  The article talks about partnerships she formed. The use of data on a phone to analyze customers was brilliant.  Several users of Tala are profiled. The stats on the impact of Ms. Siroya and her company are very impressive.

Title of the article: “The $100 Trillion Opportunity: The Race To Provide Banking To The World’s Poor”


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Impala

General Motors (GM) announced that it will discontinue manufacturing the Impala in 2021. The announcement made me think of my early years in Midland, TX.  

The Impala is the GM workhorse.  It is more of a utility vehicle than a luxury car.  The Impala is a sedan and somewhat of a larger car.  It has plenty of leg room in the back seat. The engine was a V-8, a powerful engine. The trunk was deep and spacious.  

In short, an ideal company car.  When I was growing up in Midland, Texas many of the oil firms offered company cars to select employees.  Usually these were Impalas. 

The company car was one of the best benefits offered to an employee.  In essence you had a second car you did not directly pay for.  The only negative was that no one else in the family could drive it, but that seems like a minor nuisance to me.  You could almost always tell who had one. It was a Impala, Biscayne (discontinued in 1972), Caprice, or a Ford.  As I recall, they were usually white.  


Of course that what when industry offered employees company cars.  You see very little of that today. It is an expensive perk.  Now, we get mileage for using our own cars or a car allowance.  

I remember my father's 1973 Impala. It was white with a blue interior and very comfortable. This is a picture of the 1973 Impala.  It sure was a good company car. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Entrepreneurship AND Living in Your Hometown

This post assumes that you a) want to live in your hometown and b) you want to start a business.

That said, this post focuses on the best of both worlds, living in your hometown and starting a business.  However, I must offer a couple of caveats.

The link to the Entrepreneur magazine notes several individuals who left big cities and moved home to start their businesses. It points out that most of the small towns these entrepreneurs move back to have some level of support for a small business or that it must developed.  

That is a key point. An entrepreneur does not start a business in a vacuum.  In fact, all entrepreneurs need expertise and resources to succeed.  

Be sure to note the last sentence, "In other words, the community needs to build something worth coming home to."

And that is what we in economic development should strive for. Do we have the necessary resources identified at the local level to support small business start-ups and entrepreneurial ventures?  If no, we need to take steps to a) identify the lacking resources and b) try to either develop the missing links and/or recruit the missing components. 

Link to article:  https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/337560

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Tried and True

In uncertain times we sometimes forget what is important in our professional career.  It is your word, your reputation, and your network. 

Notice each of these start with "your".  Because you earn each one and you own each one.

While all three are important, I will focus on the third one. 

My network is a vital foundation to my success as an economic developer. I relied on it when I lost my job nine years ago. I rely on it for project intelligence.  I rely on it for local intelligence.  And I help my network as often as I can.  Frankly, my network allows me to be a more productive and valuable employee.  

To a certain extent, a network is like a friendship or marriage or a career. You must constantly work at it. And you cannot take it for granted. What can you do?  After all, anything of value takes work. 

The following link to an article in Entrepreneur is an excellent resource for maintaining and expanding a network.  

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/339971

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Development Services vs. Economic Development

First, this is not adversarial at the title might suggest.  At least not in Prince William County.  It is more of a very basic observation of the differences and the similarities between the two. These observations are based on extensive experience in one discipline and knowledge (and a growing experience) with another discipline. 

Economic development is fundamentally about why.  As in why should you locate your new facility in the County. As in why you should expand your existing operation in the County as opposed to a neighboring county.  Economic development is about customer service, marketing, listening, and justification. A great economic development professional can identify a client's needs AND wants.  Most clients do a very good job identifying their needs.  Wants are much harder and requires listening. Marketing is getting the client's attention.  Customer service is about getting answers to a client's questions in a timely manner.  Justification is at the heart of why.  For economic developers, we must justify a decision by a business executive to spend money and hire residents in our County.  

Now Development Services (DS).  DS is the permitting arm of Prince William County.  DS is about how. As in how quickly can we permit your facility so you can begin operation.  DS is about listening, asking appropriate questions, and customer service.  Listening involves the client explaining the project.  Asking appropriate questions is about finding out any unique factors in an effort to limit surprises. Customer service is about providing a concise and accurate overview of the permitting process and responding to client questions as quickly as possible.  It is our goal to permit you as fast as possible so you can begin generating revenue.  In addition, when you decide where to expand your operation, you may not have the same team who told you why you should locate in the County. But you will remember a positive permitting experience.  

You see, permitting is different in every jurisdiction.  Rules and regulations can differ slightly, but significantly. Make no mistake, these rules and regulations are taken seriously and enforced.  

Note the differences.  In economic development, it is sometimes said all that glitters is gold.  In DS it is about having a far deeper understanding about the project and understanding how we can fit key industry factors into the County permitting process.  DS is about delivery.

Note the similarities. The similarities are far more important.  Let me point out in other jurisdictions I hear about how economic development does not understand permitting and vice versa.  That is not the case in Prince William County.  

As far as similarities, I see three key ones. All are important. The first one is both have an emphasis on customer service.  The second one is listening to the client is absolutely critical.  And the third one is both want the business to succeed in the same way, but with a slight difference in metrics.  

The slight difference for economic development is about getting a client to locate in the County. The measurements for economic development are jobs and capital investment.  DS is about getting a client's selected location permitted quickly. The measurements for DS are permitting review time and customer satisfaction. 

I suspect I will have future posts on this subject.  

New Job - Observation Three - the Hum of a Beehive

This is the third and last post on my new job.  In my previous job I worked in one of the newest buildings in County and enjoyed a second floor view.  You may have seen posts of the view when it snowed.  At the maximum employment, the office of economic development has 13 employees. By and large it is very quiet. 

Now I work in County Complex, a development with five county buildings. I am in a two story building, it is called 5 County Complex.  My cube is on the first floor with a view of the courtyard and 1 County Complex.  

A couple of hundred employees work in 5 County Complex. Many citizens come to the building to discuss future plans, permit a business, or review public works project. The first floor has a large seating area for applicants seeking a permit for a home improvement, starting a business, or other activities.  Within this area are approximately 15 counters manned by County staff.   

It is a beehive. Halls are filled with people, conference rooms are almost always booked, and we have a diner in the basement.  

The early morning is when I hear the floor gear up.  It is quiet when I first arrive. I might hear a pot of coffee brewing. Within each 5 minute increment, I can hear more noise. And then it tops out in 30 minutes. I can hear conversations from a couple of the counters, a copy machine churning out paper, conversations in the hallway about business or a customer inquiry, and people walking the halls. In short, the low hum in a beehive.  

And I love it.