Loading...

Mike Brubaker’s Blog

Mike Brubaker’s Blog 2017-06-19T15:03:45+00:00
3108, 2016

5 Ways Utilizing Downtime Can Improve Productivity

Did you know that Americans take less vacation than any other country in the Western world? It’s true. While the Spanish take their siestas and the Austrians unwind with a month’s worth of holiday time, many business people in the United States don’t take lunch breaks, let alone a vacation.

This American work ethic is something to be admired: we work hard, wear ambition on our sleeves and have built and run some of the most profitable and innovative companies in the world. But even the savviest businesspeople know that downtime is a key part of maintaining an achievement-oriented culture. In fact, the right amount of downtime increases productivity rather than reducing it.

This may seem a bit counterintuitive, like saying that eating less will make you gain weight or shopping more will help you save money. Productivity isn’t a formula as much as it is a living, breathing organism that needs both rest and energy to thrive. 

Here are five ways that downtime can increase productivity, and how to utilize it in your place of work to get the most out of your employees.

1. Don’t stress out your employees

The ill-effects of stress are well-documented. Health, mood, and mental state are all negatively impacted by stress, and a happy, healthy worker of sound mind will always out-perform a frustrated, sick and sad one. According to research by professional services firm Towers Watson, stressed employees report lower engagement levels higher instances of absenteeism, two clear signs of poor productivity.

Without downtime, workplace stress builds up and can become also incredibly costly: It’s estimated that American companies lose roughly $300 billion a year in health costs, absenteeism and poor performance.

2. Pay attention to hours worked

Businesses that believe that having employees work overtime, without pay, is an asset to the company may be mistaken. Research indicates that employee output drops sharply after the 50-hour per week mark, and that those working 70 hours contribute very little more than those working 55. Long hours also associated with higher instances of mental illness, strokes and heart disease.

What’s the perfect, most productive workweek? This has been under debate for a while, and many have argued for the benefits of a six-hour workday or four-day workweek. The truth is that it’s different for everyone. American work culture is distinct from Europe’s, so we’re unlikely to get that three-day weekend anytime soon. Stil, simply making sure employees have reasonable hours around the 40-hour mark will get more out of them. Plus, you’ll save money on overtime expenses like electricity.

3. Encourage vacations & lunch breaks

It’s hard to get Americans to take vacations; only half of those with paid time off use the full extent of their vacation days. There’s no clear reason why, but it’s hypothesized that heavy workload and competitiveness have something to do with it. But taking a vacation is good for productivity and the economy — we should not be stigmatizing it or making it impossible.

Likewise, the lunch break has dwindled, with just one in five workers taking steps from their desk for a midday meal. Lunch breaks are important, because changing environment, even for a few minutes, stimulates creativity and innovation. This is a great form of downtime to encourage within company culture.

4. Don’t settle for inadequate staffing

One of the top reasons American workers get stressed is inadequate staffing; this also a major reason they decline to take vacation. Your staff will naturally get more downtime if you can distribute the workload more equally and appropriately among them; they will feel more comfortable taking breaks, leaving on time, and taking those PTO days without remorse.

The last thing you want is for employees to burnout. Considering the high cost of stress, having a larger staff could save money in the long run.

5. Unplug after hours

Another form of downtime employers might not consider is technological downtime. Many employees feel stressed because their connection to the workplace is always present, like a ghost haunting their devices, even if they are on vacation or at home with their families.

Expecting employees to be on-call at all times can be counter-productive and stress-inducing. Obviously, some industries truly do require on-call work. For those that don’t, consider having separate work phones and computers, and allowing employees to “unplug” when they aren’t on the clock.

All things considered, the upside the downtime seems pretty clear. And bosses, remember: this goes for you, too.

1508, 2016

How to Find a Profitable Business to Invest In — And When to Say No

It’s probably on every venture capitalist’s bucket list to see him or herself on the Forbes’ Midas List, an annual ranking of the best VCs in high-tech and life science venture capital. Top VCs of 2016 include Chris Sacca of Twitter and Douglas Leone of FireEye; according to the list, these two entrepreneurs have a net worth of 1.21 billion and 2.8 billion, respectfully.  

Sacca made early bets on Twitter and Uber before both companies became wildly successful. Leone, who has appeared on the Midas List eleven times, made early tech investments in LinkedIn and YouTube. So you’re probably wondering, how did they find and invest in the businesses that earned them their success today?

If you think you have what it takes to be a VC like Sacca or Leone, continue reading for tips to help you find a profitable business to invest in. Who knows? Maybe these tips will get you to the Midas Top 10.

  1. Network

Networking is a boon in all industries, and it’s no different for investors. You should always be on the lookout for opportunities to immerse yourself in the industry by connecting with other VCs. Join a professional organization such as the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and attend conferences such as the Southeast Venture Conference. This will give you a chance to talk with other professionals about their investing experiences.

Or become a mentor for SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground through education and mentorship. Additionally, many communities have their own local business association chapters. You can network on a smaller scale by attending meetings and luncheons with your local business association chapter.

Mike Brubaker networking

  1. Utilize Your Rolodex

You’ve networked with professionals, and perhaps, early-stage entrepreneurs. It’s time to put your contacts to use. If there’s someone you deeply connected with, send them a message via LinkedIn or email to tell them how much you enjoyed your conversation. Ask for career advice if you networked with another VC. If you networked with someone from a start-up, this is your chance to get to know the individual and the company they work for. You may make an investment in their company down the road.

Over time, you will gradually make more connections with people involved in the business. When you’re ready to make an investment, ask your connections to see if they know of any small businesses seeking an investor.

  1. Know the Signs of a Profitable Business

    Mike Brubaker distinguishing a profitable business

Research should be the foundation of your decision making. Besides networking and attending conferences, you should also subscribe to trade publications or newsletters to inform yourself on the industry. If you’re a member of the NVCA, you can subscribe to their daily SmartBrief newsletter. You can also subscribe to Entrepreneur.

In an article posted on Entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, an angel investor, outlines a few rules of highly profitable companies. The following are questions to keep in mind while looking for a business that has potential:

  • Is there a distribution plan, and is distribution limited to increase profit?
  • Is the product safe?
  • Are they targeting a niche market?
  1. It’s Time to Get Serious

You’ve done your research and you have a few companies in mind that you would like to invest in. Set up interviews with potential business partners and ask questions including but not limited to the ones above. Additionally, ask them about their business plan and what makes them a credible and reliable business partner. If they have past experience and a clear plan, their business might be a good investment. But don’t forget about the most important thing in it for you – the profit. Ask about their plan to generate ROI and crunch the numbers to test its feasibility.

  1. Make Mistakes

“The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas.” – Albert Einstein

New ideas are the lifeblood of the investment industry. If there’s a new idea on the market and you believe in it, then go for it. If the business fails and you have a loss, that’s okay because everyone makes mistakes. It’s a proven statistic that nine out of 10 startups fail, so don’t think you’re the only one whose business did not succeed because you are far from alone. Use this time to re-evaluate yourself and your investments, then try again with a better arsenal of knowledge at your behest.

  1. Learn When to Say No

    Mike Brubaker business tips

It’s all part of the learning process. As mentioned above, keep a few things in mind when looking for a business to invest in. If there’s no distribution plan or clear business model, the product hasn’t been mass released or tested, or if the market is simply too large, the company is probably something you should pass on.

Continue to network, build relationships and research the field. It will be a cyclical process until you find a business that works for you – hopefully the payoffs will make you a successful VC.

2907, 2016

Productivity Lessons from 5 Famous Entrepreneurs

Mike Brubaker productivity

If you run your own business or are thinking about jumping into entrepreneurship any time soon, you’ll need to adopt some habits that will keep you motivated and productive for the long haul. It’s easy to be excited and motivated about a new idea or project at the beginning but many entrepreneurs find that they lose momentum when they start running into challenges or things don’t work out as planned. Being disciplined with your time and knowing how to prioritize tasks — all while delegating certain responsibilities and leading your team — will help you stay productive and excited about your venture in the long term.

If you’re looking to maximize your time while getting your business off the ground, I recommend borrowing from these five productivity lessons of famous entrepreneurs:

#1: ‘Win Your Morning’ with the Right Priorities

Tim Ferriss, author of ‘The Four-Hour Workweek,’ is an expert on productivity. He provides dozens of insights and tips on saving time with the goal of limiting your actual work hours to just four hours per week. While this may not be realistic for the average entrepreneur, Ferriss is a big proponent of eliminating unproductive tasks from the daily routine so you avoid the busy trap. In his podcast, titled ‘5 Morning Rituals That Help Me Win The Day,’ Ferriss explains that he focuses only on three things he can accomplish in the first 60 to 90 minutes of the day to ‘win his morning.’

#2: Theme Your Days

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Founder of Twitter, explains how he manages his time effectively while staying productive in this video interview. Dorsey says that being very disciplined about his time and ‘theming’ his days helps him stay focused even in the middle of interruptions. He will focus on the core activities for either company for that entire day so that he can be more efficient with his time. You could ‘label’ each day in your calendar to give it a theme so you know what to focus on for that entire day.

Mike Brubaker laptop

#3: Look for the Signal, Not the Noise

In our hyper-connected world, it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘noise’ of daily life and Internet activities. From constant social media updates to day-to-day interruptions, it takes seconds to lose focus and fall off task. Elon Musk is no stranger to working hard and going the extra mile. In this commencement speech, he recommends ‘focusing on signal versus noise.’ While his point refers to companies looking for strategic ways to grow and thrive, it can also be applied to productivity. Are you easily distracted and spending your energy on keeping up with the ‘noise’, or are you focusing on improving yourself and performing better than ever?

#4: Stay Physically Fit

During a Virgin Unite fundraising trip to Necker Island, Richard Branson took a break to share some tips about staying productive. He says that keeping the endorphins going with regular exercise and keeping the brain active helps him, ‘achieve twice as much in a day’ than he would otherwise. Whether this means getting up earlier for a morning walk or committing to the gym a few days a week, making your health and fitness a high priority can help you stay productive.

Mike Brubaker entrepreneurship

#5: Do Fewer Things…Obsessively

Focusing on only one thing at a time is the key to success, according to Evan Williams, the co-founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium. He also emphasizes how there are so many distractions in our daily lives and few will actually lead you to success. He recommends that everybody ‘Do fewer things’ and focus on one task at a time with a laser-like focus. This echoes Elon Musk’s signal vs. noise tip, a decision to cut out the unnecessary and stay focused on only the most important activities or projects in any given day.

Being a successful entrepreneur is linked to how well you manage your days at the office and your personal priorities. Many famous entrepreneurs believe in a minimalist approach, focusing on only the most important tasks and being mindful about how and where they spend their time. Use some of these tips to stay productive and motivated during even the most challenging times.

 

1207, 2016

3 Hiring Strategies to Land Your Company Top Performing Employees

Anyone who has ever started a business from the ground up knows how important it is to fill your growing company with top talent. But it isn’t always easy to find and retain top performing employees who care as much about your company’s mission as you do. We live in a time with a new job market landscape than the one many of us grew up with. Gone are the days when an employee would stick with one company for their whole career. Instead, we’re seeing the Millennial generation switch jobs as much as four times within their first decade out of college, according to a new study done by LinkedIn.

Given the rapidly changing job landscape, how can entrepreneurs and small business owners hire for top talent that will stick around and help your business flourish? Let these three principles (plus a metaphor about a bus) guide you as you look for your new top employees:

1. Get the Right People on the Bus

In a great article looking at what takes a company from good to great, Jim Collins uses the analogy of a bus: as the leader of the company, you are the bus driver. Before you can start moving toward your destination, the first step is making sure you have the right people on the bus. The second step is making sure they’re in the right seats. On a practical level, this means you want to hire A level talent and put them in specific roles that will play to their strengths and expertise.

Before you begin the interviewing process, make sure you know exactly what criteria you’re looking to find in a candidate. It’s not just about filling a role—it’s about knowing exactly how you want this new hire to help move your business forward. You may be driving the bus, but it’s your employees who keep the engine maintained and the wheels spinning. You’ll save yourself a lot of time by going into the hiring process knowing exactly what seat you’re looking to fill, and what skills a candidate should have to earn that seat on the bus.

2. Consider Emotional Intelligence

Determining whether a candidate would make a good hire is not just about book smarts or industry experience, but also emotional intelligence. This hard to define quality likely won’t show up on a cover letter or resume, but it’s your job to gauge a candidate’s emotional intelligence during the interview process.

Having a high emotional intelligence allows us to adapt to an industry that may be going through rapid changes, manage stress well, and develop strong interpersonal relationships. Emotional intelligence often differentiates a decent employee from a great one—or to go back to the bus metaphor, someone who is just taking up a seat versus someone who has really earned it.  During the interview process, watch how a candidate makes eye contact, carries themselves, and whether they ask engaging questions. Ask them to elaborate on how they solved complex problems in previous roles. These are all good indicators of emotional intelligence.

3. Find a Culture Fit

During the interview process, be as open as you can about the culture at your company, what values you strive to uphold, and what it’s like to work there on a daily basis. One of the driving forces that Millennials cite in making job decisions is company culture. This doesn’t mean you need to fill your office with ping pong tables, though. Millennials and most job seekers are looking for companies whose values align with their own. They are looking for opportunities with upward mobility, mentorship opportunities, and career growth. Think about how you can offer these value incentives to potential hires.

Your company culture is kind of like your bus. Is it a bus built with cutting edge technology, or maybe a bus that values sustainability and runs on recycled vegetable oil? The point here is that the passengers on your bus (your employees) should be excited about promoting those values as you work together to drive your company towards huge growth.

2906, 2016

My Thoughts on Brexit

So 17 million people in the UK vote to leave the EU. As a result markets tanked for two days, then rapidly regained and stabilized.

Let’s just face the facts: we do NOT live in a stable world so we should not be surprised when instability makes itself visible (like the UK vote). The market reaction was highly predicable and the recovery came much more swift then most predicted thereby offering logic to my point.

The negative market run after the vote was all emotion. The four countries that make up the UK will be our friends if they are in the EU or not. It was a lack of judgement (my opinion of course) for some US Leaders to tell citizens of the U.K. how to vote (prior to the vote).

We have entered a new era of independence. Citizens and Gov’ts want (demand) less control from high above.  Although because of this, new independence will gain traction then stabilize then reverse, as has occurred in all of human history – the reaction I find most inserting is one of surprise.

Hold on and get ready to embrace an exciting and very unpredictable world, and remember, this is much better then living in a world that never changes, that would be boring and only exists in the movie Groundhog Day.

2506, 2016

4 Tips to Build a Strong Board of Directors

No matter the industry, all strong businesses have one thing in common: a rock solid board of directors to steer the company’s growth through a challenging and ever-changing corporate landscape.

Operating behind the scenes, the board has two critical roles: makes decisions on behalf of stockholders with the good of the company in mind, and advising the CEO. Here are some tips to help you build a great board of directors that will not only guide the company, but also signal to investors that you are committed to success:

Start Early

Don’t wait until you need to raise capital to put together a strong board of directors. Having this in place from the very beginning signals to investors that you are serious about success and value the opinions of those who have led successful businesses before. These board members can then help guide you through that first round of raising capital—particularly useful if you’ve never do so before.

Longtime entrepreneur and venture capitalist Brad Feld advocates for creating a board early on in a useful Wall Street Journal article: “While you’ll often get advice to just have a ‘board of advisers’ at the beginning, I’ve found that the formality of a board of directors is helpful to the entrepreneur by creating an additional level of commitment from the directors.”

Foster Diversity

One of the benefits of having a board is having diversity of experience and perspective. When globalization and shifting demographics come into play, a board cannot be homogenous. You want to choose board members who excel in areas where you may personally feel less adept, and consider those too who have proven track records of success in the global market.

If product design or marketing aren’t your main strengths, find board members who have excelled in these areas. You also want members with experience raising capital, going through an IPO, and scaling a business. Play to your strengths by filling the board to cover your weaknesses.

Think Long Term

Where do you want your business to be 6 months from now? How about one year from now? Rather than filling your board with investors whose main experience has been with early stage startups, seek out trusted advisors who have experience scaling long term growth. They will help keep you focused on the big picture goals of your business.

Fine Tune As You Go

Change is inevitable when it comes to launching a business. From a shifting industry landscape to refining your own vision for your company’s growth, you want to make sure your board is keeping pace with any changes. As your company grows, so too should your board of directors. You may identify an area where you could still use guidance, be in product development or accounting. Look to add a board member with this specific expertise from your growing network of business connections.

As the board grows in members, the individual stake and voting power of each member declines, so you want to make sure every member has a vested interest in your company’s continued growth and success. Sometimes an initial board member may prove to be not the best fit as you refine your company vision over time, and that’s fine. Your board is not simply along for the ride—they are actively helping to steer the ship. Always remember that you are the captain, though. And every captain needs a great crew.

1306, 2016

How to Smartly Scale Your Company’s Growth

Many entrepreneurs and first-time business owners make the mistake of believing their business plan alone will be enough to drive growth, attract investors and generate revenue. If you’re ready to take your company to the next level, focus your efforts on scaling your growth strategy so you can meet your goals.

The uncomfortable truth is that until a new business can prove it has refined its revenue strategy, it cannot grow and thrive. Smart business owners and company directors focus first on refining methodologies and strategies that are already generating revenue — or will be in the near future — and then scaling up from there. Here are some of the most effective ways to scale your company’s growth:

Identify Your Core Activities

This can be tricky for entrepreneurs and business owners who get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day operations. When you start thinking and operating like a visionary with a clear focus on your goal, you can easily identify the core activities that will help you accomplish your goals. You want to make sure you are only focusing your time and energy on these particular tasks — and delegating other responsibilities to appropriate team members.

Establish Your Network

Outside of business strategy, you need to focus on connecting with people in your industry and fostering mutually beneficial relationships. Your business may require partnering with complementary companies or individuals at some point — especially if you are in a growth cycle and need more resources or want to increase your reach. Staying connected can help you come up with new ideas and strategies that will fuel your company’s growth. Your network will expand as your business grows, opening you up to more opportunities as you meet and connect with similar-minded people.

Create Renewal  Products and Repeatable Sales Systems

One of the most effective business strategies for generating long-term revenue is to develop products that a customer needs to purchase multiple times throughout their lifetime or create a repeatable sales system. Whether this takes the form of a membership program, subscription service, or simply involves making the repeat purchase process extremely simple, this type of business model has unlimited growth potential — as long as you scale your systems early. Refining the purchase process and identifying key triggers or drivers can help you repeat the process for dozens of other products in different markets.

Maintain a Strong Reputation

If you want to attract investors, strategic partners and even customers, you need to make sure you have a positive online and offline presence. Work on cultivating your online presence by sharing information about the founder or leader of the business, interacting with other leaders in similar industries online and offline, and sharing insights about your industry as an authority in your niche. This can help you build your reputation so more people can learn about you and your business. Over time, this can have a ripple effect that helps to take your business to new heights.

Evaluate and Secure Funding Sources

Unless you are confident you are going to manage a completely self-funded business, you will need to team up with someone who can determine how much capital you really need to take your business to the next level. Once this is established, you need to build a network of possible funding sources. This might involve talking to venture capitalists, seeking out angel investors, or taking out a small business loan. Identifying and then securing these sources of funding can help you build a scalable system that will support your company’s growth.

 

Making smart decisions early on can help you create a solid foundation that you build upon quarter after quarter. Without this foundation, you could be missing out on key business opportunities and get left far behind your competition during major shifts and changes in the industry or economy. Tapping into your professional network and focusing on creating repeatable sales systems are a just a few smart ways to scale your company’s growth.

Mike Brubaker