What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

CEOs: Don’t Be Left Behind, Make Your Company Relevant

stuck in another worldIs your company stuck in the past…is your industry slowly (or quickly) changing?

Have your customers’ needs moved away from your old product/service offerings?

These changes can build up, and then erupt.

Companies become Stuck in Another World if:

  1. They don’t recognize or react to evolving industry forces and trends
  2. They have lost their core strengths and competitive advantages
  3. Products/services have become indistinct commodities

If this is the case, what can you do about it?  For those readers who have successfully dealt with these challenges, what are some successful tactics you can share with the 9Stucks readers who find themselves in this predicament?

Just this summer, conversations I’ve had with CEOs and private equity investors have quickly gravitated to their laments and frustrations about either: 1) customer behavior; 2) new competitors; 3) industry dynamics; 4) product/service offerings; or 5) all of the above.

The chatter is loud. Here is a sampling from the conversations:

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Aggressive Competition? You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

SharkIn New England, nothing shouts “Summer!” more than the first report that sharks have been spotted off Cape Cod beaches. Great White sharks.  Six more were spotted this week cruising close to the shore in Chatham, MA.

When the island of Martha’s Vineyard was used as the setting for the 1975 movie Jaws, the movie rolled out a tide of beach fears that have never quite receded. Scenes from Jaws have caused adults and children to avoid swimming in the ocean, or panic and run from the water when seeing a harmless sunfish off the beach, or learn the pounding technique for scaring a shark away.

Are your competitors sharks? When new competitors are 100 yards off your company shore, or seemingly right next to your plant (boat) do you immediately think you ‘…need a bigger boat?’

Here’s a familiar scene from Jaws which illustrates the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” reaction.

My experience has shown that management reacts in one of three ways when confronted with intense, encroaching competition:

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

How Scrooge and Marley Became Unstuck

Scrooge and Marley PLC was stuck.

I don’t identify my clients by name, but given the widespread publicity and overall notoriety of this particular company, I felt it would be beneficial to reveal the real ‘story behind the story’. This is a case study about how Scrooge and Marley PLC became unstuck.

Background

Scrooge and Marley was a mature, privately-held ‘counting house’. The company was founded by Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge, two aggressive, entrepreneurial clerks. There were no outside investors and no cash awards from any business accelerator programs. (Hard to imagine who might have wanted to hear their elevator pitch!)

What is a ‘counting house’? Marley called their business a ‘money-changing hole’. It was a closely held, secretive financial institution that charged high interest rates on all transactions. They were loan sharks…predatory lenders operating out of a dingy warehouse. It’s a good thing their home office was in London, otherwise they probably would have been targeted by Dodd-Frank or The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Jacob Marley died while he was still employed at the company. There was no key man life insurance; they were too cheap to buy a policy. After Marley’s death, Scrooge became the sole shareholder and he decided to run Scrooge and Marley as he saw fit.

Little did Scrooge know that Jacob decided to maintain a Board observer role.

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

CEOs: How To Deconstruct A Stuck Company Stew

Is your company’s value ebbing or declining?

Do you know ALL the reasons why your company is underperforming, or can you only pull apart some of the reasons?

Figuring out why shareholder value is deteriorating can be easy if the issues are really obvious. It can be hard and confusing if the overall situation is a quagmire.

The 9Stucks collection identifies the most common causes of why a company isn’t meeting shareholder expectations. For those of you who have looked at the 9Stucks, each standalone Stuck is straightforward and uncomplicated. Most of the significant, contributing issues that cause a company to be stuck are not hard to uncover if you know where to look.

However, the 9Stucks are usually not limited to just one or two. A stuck company always has A COLLECTION of the 9Stucks. The breadth of the collection determines the overall organizational ‘stickyness’.

This tangled, unique mix of the 9Stucks acts as a significant impediment to figuring out the real, challenging issues in the organization because it is often difficult to extricate and isolate the individual components of the mix, let alone fix them.

I call the mix Stuck Salmagundi.

Salmagundi…?

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Emotional Venting in a Stuck Company. Episode 3: Operations

This is the final post in the three-part series:

‘Emotional Venting in a Stuck Company’

This final episode explains emotional venting related to internal confusion over the company’s OPERATIONS. When I stick my head under the hood of a company and listen, I often hear lots of clanking, banging and rustling from the CEO, Board, and investors about:

  • the overall business model
  • cash (or the lack thereof)
  • the capital structure (translation – too much debt, not enough equity)
  • pricing
  • costs: fixed and variable
  • business processes, weak systems, old equipment
  • the basic forces of producing and executing

Recap of Episodes 1 &2: Episode 1 pointed out the emotional ebbs and flows associated with LEADERSHIP in a stuck company.  Their voices express what they live everyday.

Episode 2 gazed outward at the emotional toll inflicted on the business by a host of ever changing dynamics broadly called EXTERNAL FORCES. What’s happening to us?! Can a company be a victim? Maybe so, but maybe not…

The 9Stucks that relate to business OPERATIONS are Fog, Maze and Rough. The comments I hear from leadership teams about these stucks reveal a lot about the nitty-gritty functioning of the company.

Listen to what people have said when OPERATIONS are contributing to underperformance…here’s a peek at my notes from initial client meetings:

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Founders: Are You Stuck Before You Start?

It’s exciting to be in the mix at the 2014 Mass Challenge Mentor matching process http://masschallenge.org/accelerator.  
As a mentoring service to the hard-working finalists in the nation’s largest Accelerator, I’m republishing this post.
This post was originally published in 2012; nothing has changed. Enjoy and comment! 

Where Start-ups Get Stuck – and How to Avoid Going There

Between us, my long-time friend (and fellow blogger) Andy Palmer and I have started a lot of companies. We also advise many other companies and look at even more pitches from start-ups.  A shared observation is that while a few start-ups shine (or at least glimmer) and go on to some success, other start-ups seem stuck before they start.  Why?

Here are our observations on where start-up founders get stuck and our advice on how to prevent Stuck situations, presented Q&A style. This post also appears on Andy’s blog.

Q.  Andy, where are the most common places you see founders getting stuck, and why?

Andy Palmer, Start-Up Specialist

I see a lot of founders get stuck at the very earliest stages – by being distracted by fundraising.  I’ve said before – over and over again – founders should focus on developing their business first and not worry about fundraising nearly as much as they would probably like.  It’s natural to be nervous when you don’t have any money in the bank.  But it’s a healthy discipline to figure out how you are going to create value for customers who will pay you instead of spending time thinking about how to extract money from venture capitalists or seed investors.  As an angel investor, I’m always looking for people who are mission-driven and focused on their customers, as Jim says below, instead of worrying about what potential investors might think.

 Q.  So how can entrepreneurs avoid getting distracted by fundraising?

Just focus on your business and your customers.  Wake up every morning thinking about how you are going to create value for your customers. Go to sleep at night considering which of your customers you helped that day and how.  Be maniacally focused on your customers’ needs.  It sounds simple – and it is – but executing this when you are starting from scratch – with no product, no credibility, and no people –  is really hard. It requires all your energy and your concentration.

[Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Customer Satisfaction: Can I Take Your Order Please?

There should be no confusion about what a customer expects from the business relationship with a supplier.  A critical aspect of a company’s go-to-market tactics is having clear processes and effective systems that create strong connection points to the customer.

What are you most critical business processes?  How are these related to customer satisfaction?

Who owns these processes?

These four successful companies who used the 9Stucks approach have radically different business models:

  • Manufacturer of large, custom test equipment
  • Engineering services consulting firm
  • Printer of trade magazines
  • Manufacturer of precision electronic assemblies

Even though they are very different businesses, there is ONE critical thing they all had in common:

They all had one customer-centric, internal process that had no clear ownership.  

Each one of them lacked distinct accountability and ownership by ONE person over ONE important process linked directly to their customers. [Read more…]

What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Part 2: An Eyeful and an Earful

What I saw, what I heard…

The first post (‘A Fresh Pair of Eyes’) in The 9Stucks Boot Camp Series ended with me getting the approval for a large scale integrated consulting assignment at StorageCo.  This is the second post in the series. It will cover what I started to see and hear once the project started.

Walt Disney once said: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

So, that was what I did – I began doing. Digging in at PaperCo meant that I was a sponge:

  • met with many people in all functions of the company
  • gathered all kinds of paper and reports
  • absorbed data, crunched numbers, then got more data
  • soaked up the atmosphere around the plants
  • watched the products being made
  • took notes and documented what I heard

Remember, I heard these themes from Pete (the CEO) and his brother Jack in my ‘pre-proposal’ meetings:

  1. “we have a cost problem
  2. we need an objective outsider to do an in-depth look at the business
  3. the company had limited growth and marginal profits over many years
  4. most of the personal assets of the aging family owners were tied up in the business

What I found after digging in