Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year - Minimize the bad mischief and celebrate the good

Thank you to our loyal readers from the United States, China, Israel, France, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Czech Republic, Canada, Belgium, India, United Kingdom and Indonesia.  We so appreciate you.

Have a very happy and prosperous New Year.  Minimize the bad mischief and celebrate the good!

Partners in Mischief,

Chicke Fitzgerald, from Tampa, FL
MK Marsden, celebrating the New Year from Australia, returning to New York in January  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Deadly Mischief - Fighting Business Blazes

When a fire is raging, you have no choice but to work toward extinguishing the offending blaze.  

But what if the smoldering coals finally go out and you suddenly see clearly and in front of you is someone laying kindling in a pile.  And to his or her right, there is someone with a container of kerosene, just waiting to pour it on the pile and yet another person right behind, with a lighted cigarette, oblivious to the dangers of coming into contact with the other two.

Every day in business this same scenario plays out over and over again. 

The worst kind of mischief is the contribution of the various elements of a "business blaze" within your company.

No, this particular kind of mischief doesn’t look like kindling or kerosene or matches, but they are every bit as deadly to your strategy and your profitability.

You have all seen this kind of deadly mischief.  Here are some of those that we've observed firsthand in our client companies:

  • THE IDEA KILLER - You are in a meeting and someone throws out an idea.  As quickly as they finish their sentence, someone chimes in with “We’ve already tried that and….” .

  • ABSENCE OF STRATEGIC PRIORITIZATION - You need to get some development done that will greatly reduce customer frustration with your product and lower the number of calls to the call center.  You are told that the work is “in the queue” and it will be “x quarters” before it is available. 

  • PROCESSES THAT KILL BUSINESS – You need to get approval to make a minor change to a contract that the client has requested in order for you to get the business.  Your legal department takes a week to get the minor change reviewed and approved and in the meantime, the client has gone with your competitor.  
  • ANALYSIS PARALYSIS - You have a great idea and miraculously, it makes it past the idea killer.  But everyone and his brother in the company gets involved in the analysis of the opportunity.  A huge study is commissioned and by the time that it is all done, everyone is convinced that the market conditions may have changed, so they launch into another round of analysis and more research and on and one it goes (or not...).
  • FIRE FIGHTING CULTURE - Every day you come in, vowing to spend time on strategic initiatives to build the business.  But every day, you are presented with fire after fire and by the end of the day you have all of them under control, vowing that tomorrow will be different.  It never is, because all you ever do is react.

  • NO PROGRESS, NO PROBLEM - You have just spent (wasted) another 8 hours in meetings and at the end of each meeting, you spend at least 10 minutes coordinating calendars for the follow up meeting.  No one has time to actually do any work, because everyone has a full calendar of meetings and conference calls.

We could go on and on, but instead, we will launch a new series on each of these and will make sure to incorporate the antidote to these types of mischief in the coming days.

Stay tuned.

MK and Chicke
Partners in Mischief (the good kind)


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Modeling Mischief - How well do you know your business?

As an investor and strategic advisor, as well as an entrepreneur, one of the things that I have to do as a part of my role is financial modeling [or at the very minimum, reviewing the modeling that the business owners have done].

In my previous role as strategic consultant, one of the first things that I take a business through to understand their capabilities and get them aligned is an exercise called:

It goes like this.    Normally, we are in a big room and we use a big roll of butcher block paper and put it on the wall.  Then I draw out this diagram with a big, thick black permanent marker.  I also hand out green and red stickers. 

Then everyone gets a pack of sticky notes that are pre-filled with a list of key tasks that the team has to complete to achieve their goals.  Those tasks include research, creating Powerpoints, giving presentations, social media, making sales calls, closing deals, hiring, firing, financial modeling, etc. etc.   The list of tasks varies, depending on the type of group that I'm working with.

Each person has their initials on their pack of sticky notes. 

Then they go through and put each sticky note in one of the quadrants - LOVE/DO WELL, HATE/DO WELL, LOVE/DO BADLY (or haven't tried) and HATE/DO BADLY [it is total mischief to have anything on your list of responsibilities that goes in this quadrant].

Lastly they go through and put either a red or green sticker on the sticky note, indicating whether the task energizes them and gets them engaged, or whether it drains them and causes them to disengage.

As I am explaining how to do the exercise, I always use financial modeling as the example for my HATE, DO WELL quadrant and I put both a red and a green sticker on the sticky note. 

Admittedly, I am quite good at modeling, but truly, I'd rather get a root canal than have this as a part of my regular responsibilities. 

Yet, I must admit that I am energized when I finish an amazing model. But conversely, I am totally drained by the task and many times during the process, because I hate it so much, I disengage and have to struggle to get re-engaged.

But I will tell you that if you are building a company, or investing in or advising one or more companies, even if you are not a financial wizard, you must to learn how to at least read a financial model and not just the resulting P&L. 

Reason being, is that if you can walk line by line through a spreadsheet and understand the formulas (or worse, when there is an assumption that is listed, but not even used in a formula), you will really know your business. 

If you rely on a financial analyst and take their work at face value, it will be very difficult for you to spot problems.  I highly recommend that you sit down with that analyst and review all of your key performance indicators (KPIs) and ensure that there are proof points in the model that track those. 

Just a few examples of KPIs are: 
  • Unique Visitors
  • Calls per Unique Visitor
  • Gross Revenue per Customer
  • Marketing Spending per Unique Visitor
  • Expenses per Employee
Also, before you have them go through the model with you, make sure that every summary total column of the spreadsheet (e.g. the total by year or by quarter) has % of Total so you can understand your business/revenue and expense mix and how it changes by year.  Also make sure that they incorporate % Growth figures for every major total for categories such as Revenue, Cost of Sales, Expenses, Capital. 

Lastly, one of the best ways to know your business model inside and out is to write up a narrative version of the assumptions.  If you still consider yourself allergic to the financial model itself, you will need to sit with the author of the model to get the answers that you need.  The narrative should mirror the left hand column of the various tabs of the model. 

It is complete and total mischief to not know your numbers, because if you can't articulate the key things that you need to track in your business and ensure that your financial projections reflect those assumptions, then you don't know your business.  

And you only need to watch one episode of ABC's Shark Tank or CSNBC's The Profit to know that if you don't know your business, you won't win and you definitely won't be a game changer.

Stay tuned for more business planning mischief (the good kind) tomorrow.  Later this week we will revisit the LOVE/HATE/DO WELL/DO BADLY exercise and I'll give you some more tips for maximizing the capabilities of your team.

Chief Game Changer,


@chickefitz, #gamechanger

Monday, December 15, 2014

Marketing MIschief - Missing the person in the target

Greetings from down under and welcome to MK's Monday morning marketing mischief.  

Last week we talked about the need to focus on a key target market that you and your company can delight.... great, so now you might ask -- how do we do that?

Target markets are made up of people.   

Your job as a leader in your business is to identify the biggest business problem that a group of people in the target market have in common.   

They won't necessarily share the identical problem or even share the preference in how you solve the problem, but what they will share is a compelling need to solve the problem and a budget to do so.    

Within your target market is your buyer, the person who will lead their organization in buying your goods and services.  The person who is responsible for solving the business problem for their company.  The person willing to put something at stake to adopt your product your solution.   

Your job as the marketing leader is to find them and understand what they need and then solve their problem.  They are the illusive person in the target.   

Yes, business is personal.   

We are in the person to person economy.  The mischief in marketing [and not the good, fun kind of mischief], is when you forget that.

cheers and happy targeting

Chief Mischief Officer

Monday, December 08, 2014

Marketing Mischief - Targeting is SINGULAR

MK here, with your Monday morning marketing mischief.   Well, actually, by the time you read this, it will be midnight in Australia, where I am spending the next month on assignment.
In our management consulting company we get to work with amazingly successful companies who want to accelerate the growth of their businesses further.   

Sometimes we work with executives that have been successful in other firms that are at the very early stage, launching their first product.  Other times, we work to help companies that are expanding from their own domestic market into the US market as the next phase of their growth and other clients have saturated their current market and need to expand into a new one, but have not yet determined how to prioritize where they are going.

Regardless of the condition for growth, one thing remains the same --- the challenge leaders have in identifying their "target market". 

Too often CEOs and product leaders get seduced into believing they can build their application for "everyone"  and as a result they develop for no one.  The lowered cost of development and the rate of change in the digital economy further fuels the mischief, because it is easy and cheap to write code that accelerate the problem of everyone/no one further.

To expand your market you need a target... not several targets.  

Find a high value problem for a large group of people and go solve that problem.  Become the company that services the target market and gets known for delivering world class solutions to that market.   

Yes with the digital economy you can dominate a target market faster and at lower costs then you can move onto the adjacent target market.   

What has changed is the rate at which a company can acquire customers in the target market.  What has not changed is successful companies are building by delivering and delighting one target market at a time.   

There is no targetS marketing.  Targeting is singular. 

Chief Mischief Officer

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The difference between thanks and acknowledgement

Lots of leaders will say thank you but have you ever worked for a leader that was great at acknowledgement?   

They are rare in my experience.  

Part of our executive coaching is to help leaders get GREAT at acknowledgement. 


Because it has a huge impact on: team performance, corporate culture, loyalty and it really spurs people to go the extra mile.  

Thank you is easy.  "Hey team thanks for a job well done with the latest release our clients are delighted".  

Acknowledgement is harder.  It requires taking the time to really evaluate what someone did that made a difference. 

Acknowledgement requires you to know what your people are doing, it requires listening for what your people are proud of.   "Hey Amani thanks for looking at how our clients were using the software and changing the user interface so they could get to the most common report in just 2 clicks instead of 5."  

In today's relationship economy it is more important then ever to understand the relevant work that your people are doing and acknowledge them loudly and often.  If you don't they will take their genius somewhere else. 

To make your thank you more powerful, transform them into acknowledgement -- that mischief that can really make a difference to each and everyone of your associates and yeah, by the way as a leader when you start acknowledging others you'll start to feel great too.

Yes there is something in it for you too!


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Out to sea - From fear to the mischief of loving it

In addition to my role as Chief Mischief Officer, this week I am part of a delivery crew sailing a 50 foot Beneteau from Charleston, SC to West Palm Beach Florida.   

As a member of the crew I had to perform my duties to the best of my ability and to support every other member of the crew. 

When we left at sunrise on the Friday after US thanksgiving the temp was in the 30s, the Ashley River was busy with container boats and the swells were from 9 to 12 feet.  A member of our crew was understandably seasick.

Our Captain focused on getting us safely thru the channel, steering clear of container ship traffic, and for a short time we had to leave the narrow channel.   

There was a moment where I started to think of our crew, this adventure and compare it to my business experiences. 

Just like a start-up there are moments where you feel so out of control, one of your more seasoned leaders gets sick and everyone picks up and supports each other... and you truly wonder if you will make it and why you chose to do this. 

Yes, both at sea and in business the feeling of helplessness can be quite overwhelming.

With 4 layers of clothing on, wrapped in sleeping blankets, safety briefing completed, we took our individual watches. 

As we journeyed south we each persisted on course most of the time.  As we sailed thru Georgia the weather subsided and the swells dropped to 4-6 feet.  We all moved from concern and ill ease to well being.  Hmmm  the same feeling after you raise your first round of funding or close your first few deals.  Yes it seems we are going to be OK after all.

After my 1AM to 3AM watch I journeyed down to the main cabin for some seriously needed sleep.  I wondered how my flat lander belly would do and much to my delight the rhythm of the rolling seas lulled me into a delicious sleep. My final thought was wow, I am going to be a good first mate. 

It was like my first CEO journey, when I realized I knew and could do much more than I have ever been tested to do before.  I fell asleep in awe at the capacity of human beings, individually and in teams.

Saturday morning now 45 miles offshore from Saint Augustine, our team is well.  Everyone is rested, performing their duties, sharing stories. 

Our little crew has a new level of camaraderie and capability and we are only half way thru the journey.  Fear has turned to enthusiasm and love for our adventure.  I experienced a whole new way of contributing and communicating. 

I tested my physical and emotional strength and I know Ill be a much better business leader and friend from this experience.  

This experience was a delicious chance to become a better version of myself - mischief at its finest.  

1028 AM ET Saturday November 29th.
Chief Mischief Officer and sometimes first mate.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Marketing Mischief - "Busyness" as your badge of honor

MK here, with your Monday morning marketing mischief. 

I was talking with a client last week and we started talking about the mischief contributing to the slowing of the growth of their business. 

I brought up the ONLY completely "non renewable resource" in life and business and that is TIME.

Many business leaders are great at keeping their eyes on cashflow, product development and market forces.   Some are even great at identifying target markets.

In 25+ years of business I have never seen a company that had TIME as a KPI (key performance indicator). 

As leader I do measure TIME.

I know my companies can always acquire more customers, write more code, hire more people but we can never make more time.  We can never re-capture lost time, or go back in time to the critical moment of interaction with a key customer or disgruntled customer.  We cannot regain the TIME in the market from our indecision.  

In 2014 in North American we talk about being busy all the TIME.  In fact, we wear busyness  as a badge of honor.  That is the ultimate in the negative kind of mischief.

As you build your company, your market and your culture, dont make that same mistake. 

Look at your one non- renewable asset -- how are you spending your TIME?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Marketing Mischief: You are not your Customer

MK here.  I am working on a new business with a global team.   

We are a diverse group.  We are millennia's, genXs and boomers.  We are British, Chinese, American and Canadian.  We are diverse in culture, education and gender.  Just like our target market.

Yesterday I was talking to one of the leaders about the product offering and in his gentlemanly British accent he told me:  "I just can't get my head around it.  I won't be willing to use our service that way.

Now, what is important to understand is that my business partner in this venture is a 50+ year-old school administrator and math teacher.  In fact, he is a genius in both regards.

But, our customer is small ecommerce business owner. 

The market research shows they are traditionally 25-40 and 50% are female.  They are dealing with all the traditional challenges of small business, including managing product inventory, cash flow and currency exchange.  At this particular moment, these are all amplified by the Q4 rush,  pending holidays. 

A highly destructive challenge in start-ups is thinking YOU are the customer. 

It's easy to solve a problem for yourself but ah the mischief.... YOU are not your CUSTOMER.

Solving a problem for someone else is hard.  It requires putting yourself in their shoes understanding their business, their challenges and their preferences. 

Here is the mischief.  Too often in early stage companies the product team or development will solve the technical problem in a way that works for them. 

That's great, only we are here to solve the problem for the customers not ourselves. 

Look for the mischief in your product design, product development and user experience.  Your female customers don't think like your male developers.

Most importantly, when someone is shutting down an idea, listen to how they are relating to the product.  If their comments begin with I just cant get my head around it, or I would never., just remind them:

You are not your CUSTOMER.


Monday, November 24, 2014

A Primer on Mischief

Yesterday we rebranded our blog and started a new series, Marketing Mischief, beginning with a blog on search engine marketing.  MK and I thought that it would be a good idea to step back and take a look at the definition of mischief.

After 25 years of starting, investing, building and advising companies in many different countries, we have both experienced and observed a lot of business mischief.  From leaders who cannot set direction or make decisions; to innovations that have no clear purpose or defined market; financials structures that constrain the growth of the business and dysfunctional teams that stifle innovation.     
Wow, with that introduction you might think mischief is only negative.  Ah, but that is not the case.

Mischief can be powerful and when guided it creates magical outcomes in business and company cultures and on your clients, partners and teams.  Mischief includes curiosity, a unique way of solving a problem, building a market, launching an idea.     

Companies that are disrupting their industries are full of delicious mischief and enjoy extraordinary growth.  Oh, and they are also capital magnets.   

Over the next several months we are going to look at the mischief and myths in marketing and business.  We are going to tease out new ways of thinking, innovating, building your business, your market and your company culture.     

We are going to measure the impact, so you can see the power mischief has both positive and negative in your business.

Joint us in the dialogue.  Look at your own mischief let’s eliminate the barriers accelerate the growth of your ideas so your business can flourish.

Cheers from your mischief makers,

MK and Chicke

Marketing Mischief: SEM is Killing your Brand

If you were a fan of Solutionz Think Tank blog, we have renamed it.  Same blog. New name. 

Please give a warm welcome co-author Mk Marsden, my partner in mischief.

This is the first in a series of Thought Leadership blogs jointly authored by Chicke Fitzgerald and MK Marsden.  Here, we expose the mischief behind the marketing darling known as SEM.

No doubt about it.  Search engine marketing is an easy way to drive traffic.   

And since over 43% of all ad spending in 2013 was through search, it must work, right?

According to PwC and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), US companies spent $18.4 billion in 2013 on search, up from $16.9 billion in 2012.   
One thing that is clear is that SEM works REALLY well for Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, ASK and AOL.

Google dominates the landscape with 67.4% of searches and Bing/Yahoo (which are jointly administered from a keyword buying perspective) produce 19.3% and 10% respectively.  ASK and AOL hold 3.3% of US search market share combined, inconsequential when you look at the power of the other players.
So, to get started on using search engine marketing, all you need to do is:

1)      determine how much you want to spend on SEM
2)      divide your budget between the top platforms
3)      choose your keywords
4)      figure out your bid so that you can be in the top three
5)      craft the most amazing ads that are sure to elicit a response, a click

Easy peasy.  

SEM is mathematically predictable. Beautiful, right?   It appeals to the scientific and analytical part of a marketer’s brain.  Low risk, right?  Results are immediate, measurable daily.  What could be better?

But here’s the MISCHIEF.  SEM does absolutely nothing to generate sustainable business.  It is actually the polar opposite of brand building.  And if you don't do a job of grabbing them and converting them to a sale, your investment literally goes down the drain.

The dirty little secret about search is that it is building the brands of Google, Bing and Yahoo, but doing precious little for your business.  

Here is their growth since 1996.  Nice curves?

This is business mischief at its finest.   The SEM crack dealers have you hooked.  Admit it, you can’t live without them. 

If you stop spending on keywords for even one day (or for some of you, even for a few hours), your business will collapse.  If Google changes their algorithms and you are relying on SEM for a significant amount of your traffic, pardon the French, but you are screwed.

Search engine marketing may be bringing you traffic, but unless you find a way to turn those clicks into
bookings/purchases, and then turn those customers into ZombieLoyalists, a term coined by our friend Peter Shankman, you are doing nothing but building the businesses of the search engine companies. 

We think you marketing money is better spent building your brand.  

STOP the mischief.  Refocus.  Build your brand.

Cheers from your mischief makers,
MK and Chicke

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Series Starting Monday - Managing Mischief

 I am so excited to announce the addition of my partner in mischief, MK Marsden to this blog. 

We will be co-authoring a new series beginning Monday, with the first one entitled Marketing Mischief.

In fact, I like this title so much, that I'm changing the title of the blog . 

You can read more about MK by clicking on her image to the right of the blog. 

She brings a wealth of marketing and leadership experience to this blog and we are doing some very fun things together that we will be announcing after the first of the year.  

Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Thanks to @WE_Magazine for this recognition

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Be the Domino

If you are familiar with the game of dominos, there are dots on each domino and the placement of a domino on each turn requires that you match the number of dots to one of the dominos already placed. 

But in real life, and in business, the game is quite different. 

There is the natural sense that a six is better than a one and double sixes is the best. 

But the cool thing is that being blank is really the best in this game, as you can match up with any other domino when it comes your turn.  The business analogy is being versatile and flexible.  That has been my gift in my career.

We don't always have to match.  In fact, we don't even have to sit adjacent to the other dominos to be effective.  We can go off as entrepreneurs and build something on our own and still have impact.    In fact, whether we are a six or a one or even a blank in the eyes of the world, we can still have major impact.

To have positive impact, things do need to be "lined up".  There is planning involved and even skill.  But just because you don't feel like you are significant, every domino does in fact matter. 

You don't have to be a six to start off that magical chain reaction shown in this amazing video.  All you have to do is "be the domino" that you were meant to be. 

That is finding your destiny -- your radical sense of purpose.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Success soup - Z is for Zoo

Sometimes, if you are going to succeed, you just have to set aside absolutely everything and go to the ZOO.  

Taking time for yourself, or even going with the kids or your grandkids, can provide a much needed respite from the crazy amount of hours that you likely put in at your job. 

You have to admit that there is something truly magical about animals.   

My favorite zoo is actually Busch Gardens, located right here in Tampa, Florida.  Since it is so close to home and we have season passes, I have even been known to go there without my kids (although please don't tell them). 

There are two animals that always vie for my attention at Busch Gardens.  One is the white Bengal tiger and the other is the Cheetah.   They are both completely captivating.

When I lived in Milwaukee, there was an amazing Penguin exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  I could watch the penguins for hours.  The way that they would dive and jump out of the water was fascinating.

I imagine that there have been times during your success journey when you have felt like you were working in a zoo.   I wonder sometimes if we would stop what we are doing and just watch the people around us, if we would learn as much as we do watching animals.

If you can't take a break to go to the zoo, perhaps you should just take a break and pretend you are at the zoo.  I wonder what your take aways would be.

You'll have to let me know.


Our time together making success soup is now complete.  If you missed any of the blogs,

Success Soup - Never Say Never

Success soup - U is for Uber-anything

Success Soup - V is for Velocity

Success soup - W is for What if? and Why not?

Success Soup - X marks the spot


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