On Entrepreneurship, Risk and Uncertainty

Entrepreneurs live with risk and uncertainty. They don’t have a choice. The future is up to them. They are responsible for their successes and failures, and success is never permanent.  Therefore, Entrepreneurs have to learn to handle the risk and uncertainty of having to be responsible for their company and employees.
I have been fortunate. I have spent the majority of my life as an entrepreneur. In fact, I have never had a “real job”. I started my first real company when I was in elementary school, and sold it when I was 20.  I have spent most of my life focused on building successful and sustainable companies.  My early start allowed me to adjust gradually to the risks and uncertainty of being an entrepreneur.
When I started I had nothing to lose. I started a business because the people I knew needed a service and I had time. Gradually, the risks and uncertainty increased. In order to increase profits I started to take on more and riskier projects. They required hiring more employees, purchasing more equipment, investing more money, and taking more risks. Over the years, I have been forced to learn to handle the risk and uncertainty of being an entrepreneur, both in the good and bad times.  I have made and lost money, employees, and capital.
In good times, I learned to stay paranoid. In High School, after getting overly confident I learned the importance of Andy Grove’s quote, “Success breeds complacency, complacency failure, only the paranoid survive.” (more…)

Why Corporate Hierarchy is Important

CAN has experienced a lot of growth over the last 4 years. From 2010 to 2011 we experienced 508% growth, and in 2012, while we were focused on improving our infrastructure, strategies and processes, revenue still grew 166%. This growth has required a lot of changes. All of our employees have had to grow as leaders, technicians and businesspeople. And our culture, processes and systems have had to mature. I wanted to make sure that CAN is prepared for more growth in 2013.
To prepare I spent 2012 asking, “What do I need to know to grow my company from less than 10 employees to 50 employees?” The question was less about the number of employees and more about how to grow from a startup to an established company.
I knew that a company with 4 employees was different than a company with 50 employees, but I wasn’t sure about the details. Books, conferences, podcasts, associations, coaches exist for people trying to start a company or run an established company. Unfortunately, I struggled to find resources about how to go from a startup to an established firm. (more…)

Use Email Signatures, They are Important

I get emails all the time from clients, potential clients, and people who want me to buy something from them. What constantly amazes me is the lack of email signatures. I know for a fact that all email programs allow you to make an email signature with your name, rank, email address, phone number, Skype number, LinkedIn page, web page, blog address, and business address.

Why then, don’t people use them? It can’t be because they are lazy. Not having one loses you business.  After all, it is not always best to respond to an email with an email, especially when a topic is new, complicated, or sensitive. (more…)

Why Jefferson Decided to Join CAN

Jefferson joined CAN before we had this blog, our website, our products, or our office at 1209 Harney St.  This video is about how and why he decided to join Contemporary Analysis.  He knew we had potential and decided to become apart of CAN’s future and the future of data science.  CAN specializes is predictive analytics.  Predictive analytics involves collecting data about your business and customers, and then applying theory and math to build simple systems to help you work more effectively and efficiently.
Our systems are tailored to fit your company no matter how big or small or what industry you are in. We have built simple systems for fast-growing technology companies, Fortune 500 companies as well as small companies in a variety of industries including community colleges, insurance companies, software companies and engineering firms

Why I work at Contemporary Analysis

I get asked why in the prime of my career I went back to working for a startup company, run by young talent, in a field on the cutting edge of analytics.  It was because, for the first time, I felt like an owner had a vision I could get behind.  He wanted to be something better, do something different, and wanted me to help him create something magnificent.  I saw it as a unique opportunity because, for the first time, I found a true entrepreneur.
Most people define anyone that starts a business as an entrepreneur, which is actually not accurate.  That definition is the definition of a business owner.  An entrepreneur is a mindset, a way you do business and how you look at problems.  I knew Grant, the CEO of Contemporary Analysis, was different when he told me he was going to turn down being bought by 2 different companies. That alone puts you in a different class.  Most owners would sell if they ever got the chance.  In fact, Grant has no intention selling off or IPO’ing his  juggernaut of a company.  In fact, he wants to be a privately owned Fortune 500 company headquartered in Omaha, NE.  Grant not only is an entrepreneur, but he has vision.  And big vision at that.
People have told us that we can’t do it, and yet, we keep doing it.  We will easily have over $3 million in revenue for 2012, double that of last year and 10x’s that of 3 years ago, and already have contracts with 2 of the Fortune 500’s in our hometown.  We are hiring, building out, releasing new products, and thinking about how to do business better.  I have worked at a couple of startups in my life, but this is the first that does that kind of reflection and planning.  Our goal is to not only grow, but grow in a way that is sustainable and scalable by taking the time and energy to do things right the first time.  We want to build our products, people, systems and processes so they last, instead of being obsolete the next year.  While this requires extra time to research, tinker and think about what the future will look like, this philosophy allows CAN to grow without having to look back.  I wanted to be part of a company that has that kind of philosophy.
This philosophy has appealed to me.  I used to think I needed all the answers before I could recommend change.  Through the books Grant, he wants us to grow as humans and executives, has given me to read, I realized that I didn’t need all the answers before tackling a problem.  In fact, our whole company is based on the fact the answers that are out there are not the best way any more.  We have to invent new ways to stay ahead of competition or risk being a follower.  That understanding changed what I defined an entrepreneur as.  No longer did I see it as someone who likes risk, who lives on the stress created by it, and who loves the idea that while he or she may fail, the reward for winning is enormous.  Instead, I began to see an entrepreneur as someone who isn’t willing to accept things as they are as the best way.  In the hands of a true entrepreneur business is the best platform to change the world.
My philosophy also changed how I viewed risk and how I found that entrepreneurs viewed risk.
In the book Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, Harvard Business Professor Howard Stevenson defines entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”  From working with Grant, I know that this is true.  He has the unique ability to take action that require using resources that he doesn’t have and sometimes that don’t even exist.  For example, he founded Contemporary Analysis in 2008 well before you could even Google “big data”, “data science” or “predictive analytics”.
Also in the same book, Jon Burgstone, summarizes a true entrepreneur’s ideology:

Every time you want to make any important decision, there are two possible courses of action. You can look at the array of choices that present themselves, pick the best available option and try to make it fit. Or, you can do what the true entrepreneur does: Figure out the best conceivable option and then make it available.

This is what makes Contemporary Analysis great, our leader does not look to see what choices are available, instead he looks for the option that would be best for the business, and then goes and finds out how to make that option available.  This takes leadership that is empowered, and empowers everyone they work with to question why everyone has always done everything.
For example, we go directly to buyers and  talk only to people who have the need,willingness, and resources to buy what we sell.  Also, we research every decision we make from chairs and desks to computers and phone systems.  We find the system that makes sense to us and then find the vendor who sells it.  We certainly don’t wait for cold calls, don’t put up with bad customer service, or buy from poorly trained sales people.  We do things differently.
I am excited to work here.  I have no pedigree of how things have been done for years to try and get out from under.  I have the freedom to help my clients answer the questions that they have been struggling to answer for years, and help them make better decisions on how to make their businesses succeed.  At CAN I am not limited by the technology or resources available, but empowered by the mandate to help every client work smart.
One more quote from Professor Stevenson:

When you don’t have the cash to boss people around, like in a corporation, you have to create a more horizontal organization. “You hire people who want what you have and not what you don’t have.”  In other words, entrepreneurs offer their team members a larger share of a vision for a future payoff, rather than a smaller share of the meager resources at hand. Opportunity is the only real resource you have.

And this place is one of the best opportunities to make a difference in the world I have ever seen.
That’s why I work here.

How to Build a Small Business Call Center

Everyday, the CAN team interacts with clients, mentors, and friends who are leaders in their fields, and we started this series to share their expertise.
As a part of our research I interviewed Nathan Waite.  Nathan is the National Sales Director for SEMCAT Quoting Software headquartered in Lincoln, NE.  I found his advice helpful and I wanted to share it.
Hire Competitive & Passionate People:  When screening candidates, Nathan ranks competitiveness as the most important criteria for hiring new salespeople.  He has found that salespeople with competitive spirits are energized by quotas instead of being exacerbated by them.  However, he is quick to point out that a competitive spirit needs to be tempted by emotional intelligence.  Nathan doesn’t tolerate any drama on his team and salespeople need to be able to stay in the game even when they are down.  The third criteria is that people have to be passionate about SEMCAT’s products, since they are going to spend hour after hour talking about SEMCAT’s product.  However, passion about the product is different and more important than technical understanding.  Nathan has found that if people are passionate and competitive they can learn exactly how everything works.
Leader Planks not Leader Boards:  Competitive and passionate people love to know their score and the score of the company so Nathan uses call center metrics to keep his people motivated.  However, what used to be a Leader Board is now a Leader Plank.  Too many call center metrics are difficult to keep track of and distracted people instead of focused them.  Instead, The Leader Plank contains 5 call center metrics, current marketing yield, phone minutes per month, total sales per month, evaluations, and accolades.  The following is an example of SEMCAT”s Sales LeaderPlank:

Call Center Metrics LeaderPlank

3000 Minutes per Month: A salesperson’s job is to talk to as many customers as much as possible.  However, how much time is enough time.  For people that work a 9-hour day, there are 9,600 minutes of work per month, but how much of that can be spent on the phone with clients?  According to Nathan the answer is 3,000 or 31% of a 9am to 5pm Monday thru Friday work schedule.  At this rate salespeople will feel like they spend all of their time on the phone, but will also avoid burnout.
Power 50’s:  To help each sales person achieve their 3,000 minutes a month, Nathan employs what he calls “Power 50’s”.  Each Power 50 is 50 minutes long.  This is the longest an average salesperson can spend on the phone while being productive and without burning out.  He encourages his salespeople to block out 3 to 4 Power 50’s each day, and use that time call on clients.  They are supposed to treat that time like an appointment and focus all of their efforts on making phone calls.  They can return to calls, send emails and schedule other meetings around their Power 50’s.
Separate Offices:  While big companies can get away with putting a lot of salespeople into open floor call centers, Nathan recommends that if you have less than 12 people per room it is more cost effective to build individual offices.  The reason is because people are too polite.  He has found that salespeople will take turns when making phone calls or listen to other people calls and take notes.  This is especially true if their are 2 or 3 people in an office.  Basically if you have 2 salespeople in an office together, you would be better off just having one.  So if you are going to spend the money building a call center, hiring, equipping and training salespeople, maximize your investment, put them in their own office.  If salespeople have to share an office you can help them focus by giving them full headsets instead of just single ear headsets.
Phones, Headsets and Providers:  Call center telephony is an interesting industry.  There are so many options, little marketing, and no clear leaders.  Growing up without a telephone monopoly or a landline selecting a phone provider and hardware has been borderline infuriating.  I have struggled with the fact that desktop phone lacking any thought to user experience, with a “cutting edge” 16-bit color screen, that can only make voice calls can be more expensive than my computer, while Skype can make free video calls.  Nathan recommended using a Voice over IP (VoIP) system if you have an internet connection with significant upload and download speeds.  For example, CAN has 5mb upload and download for 30 people.  The VoIP provider that Nathan recommends is OnSip.  His plan for phone is simple.  He gets the phones for as cheaply as possible, and invests in great headsets.  For phones he recommends either the Polycom 430 (1 or 2 line, no backlight) or 550 (4+ lines, backlight), because they are simple and good enough to get the job done.  He recommends buying phones from eBay, because he can get them at about a 50% discount from retail and it doesn’t matter if they are used.  He uses the 50% savings to purchase each salesperson a Plantronics SupraPlus CS361N Noise-Cancelling Wireless Headsets.  Personally he uses a Plantronics CS 55 w/ Plantronics HL10, because he prefers to have one ear free in case of an emergency.
Click-to-Dial:  I asked Nathan if he had any recommendation and his only advice was to use a CRM with a Click-to-Dial feature.  This allows people to stay focused on communicating with clients instead of dialing.  In Nathan’s opinion this is the most important feature of his CRM, and it helps his salespeople meet the requirement of being on the phone for 3000 minutes per month.
Learn about building a dashboard for your call center, download “Dashboards: Take a closer look at your data.”
 

Take your call center even further. Learn how using our eBook, Predictive Analytics: The Future of Business Intelligence.

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Branden Collingsworth Joins CAN as a Data Scientist

Branden Collingsworth has officially joined CAN’s team as a data scientist.  Branden interned at Contemporary Analysis this summer as a data scientist.  In December, he just graduated with an MBA and Law Degree from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  This is on top of a bachelor’s degree in economics from UNL.
Branden is a true data geek as you can see.  He loves scrapping data from the internet, designing surveys, building databases, testing models, and creating data visualizations.  He will be working on models to power our clients and the next generation of CAN’s products.  He is also looking forward to demonstrating his technical chops on CAN’s blog.  We are very excited to have Branden on board.

Job Board: Contemporary Analysis Navigator

Contemporary Analysis is a global data science company based in Omaha, NE that provide predictive analytics to multiple Fortune 500 companies and small businesses in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Contemporary Analysis is focused on making analytics accessible to companies of all sizes and industries, and offers standard products and professional services.
Contemporary Analysis (CAN) Navigators are the core of CAN’s client experience.  They are responsible for helping customers achieve their business goals by helping them discover, understand and use CAN’s business systems.  This is the perfect position for someone that loves to continually learn and teach others.  Navigators are responsible for learning about client’s businesses and their goals, researching and helping them develop and implement a plan to help them Work Smart.  They must be experts in both the technology and customer service.
Primary Responsibilities:
Introduce: CAN Navigators are responsible for introducing clients to CAN to determine if they have a need, willingness and resources to purchase CAN’s systems.  This includes handling incoming clients from CAN’s website and referral program, and also contacting sales leads qualified with CAN’s Tracker system.
Discover: Once a client has been introduced to CAN, and has expressed the need, willingness, and resources CAN Navigators will train to be experts at data science and business so that they can work with clients to understand their business and their business goals.  Clients should be confident that their Navigator has a good understanding of their business.  If a Navigator is not sure that they fully understand a client’s business, their business goals, or the right solution they will research until they understand more.
Create: After the Discover stage, Navigators will work with Client to create a plan to help them achieve their business goals.  This will include discussing CAN’s systems, as well as third party products and services.  The purpose of this step is to collaborate with clients to create a timeline and action plan to work smart.
Work: After the Create stage, Navigators will work with Clients to setup and understand CAN’s systems in their businesses, and then work with each client to help them achieve their business goals.
Relevant Experience and Education

  • Minimum Education: Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited institution, with a degree in business or relevant work experience.
  • Able to maintain focus in a high charged environment and manage competing priorities.  This includes experience managing multiple projects simultaneously against tight deadlines.
  • Experience solving business issues with the consultative application of advanced analytics and/or information technology.
  • Strong presentation and client management skills, up to the Executive level.  This includes being able to explain highly detailed and technical subject matter to non-technical audience, and being able to present and sell analytical concepts to clients.
  • Experience delivering insight to internal or external clients by building on a technical foundation that includes a conceptual understanding of modeling techniques and a basic grasp of statistics.  Ability to build analytical applications to solve a practical problem, in an on the spot high-pressure situation.
  • Experience in project management and managing a team to meet a deadline, manage client expectations, and maximize client satisfaction relative to solution profitability.
  • Functional experience in one or more of the following areas: selling analytic services, project management, analytic product development, pre-sales, implementation, account management
  • Technical foundation to include one or more of the following areas: Bayesian statistics, multiple regression analysis, econometric modeling

If you are interested in learning more and applying contact Grant Stanley by phone at 866-963-6941 #801 or connect with him on LinkedIn.  Please have your LinkedIn profile up to date before applying.

Grant's Interview with NebraskaEntrepreneur.com

NebraskaEntrepreneur.com recently ask readers to nominate entrepreneurs and companies that they thought had a great idea or story to share.  Ali Schwanke from Leadership Resources nominated Contemporary Analysis.  Three Pillars Media produced this great video about CAN’s product development strategy and the difference between small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Contemporary Analysis was founded on the premise that there is always a better way. In fact, we exist to help you find better ways to work smart. We do this using a methodology called predictive analytics.
Predictive analytics involves collecting data about your business and customers, and then applying theory and math to build simple systems to help you work more effectively and efficiently.
Our systems are tailored to fit your company no matter how big or small or what industry you are in. We have built simple systems for fast-growing technology companies, Fortune 500 companies as well as small companies in a variety of industries including community colleges, insurance companies, software companies and engineering firms.

Why CAN Choose Omaha, NE for Headquarters

On the GROW Omaha radio show this week, Jefferson and I were asked why we choose Omaha as our headquarters for CAN.  I am writing this post because we did not have enough time to fully explain why we choose to headquarter our burgeoning technology company in Omaha, NE.
We choose to headquarter CAN in Omaha because of our results oriented culture, isolation, and business community.
Results Oriented Culture: In Nebraska, customers demand value.  To survive, businesses have to produce products that fulfills essential needs at a reasonable price.  We knew that this results oriented culture would help us create a business that provides real value for our customers and help to keep our business focused on the long-term instead of quick wins.
Isolation and Focus: Starting a business in Nebraska has its challenges, however, constraints often produce creative solutions.  With a state population of 1.8 million, isolation has been CAN’s biggest constraint.  Isolation has forced CAN to learn to build a national client base  using blogging, social networks and virtual meetings.  We have also had to develop a product and sales process that allowed us to sell our solutions quickly without a significant sales lag.  We are one of the few data science companies capable of a one-touch sales process and scaling cost effectively across the United States and globe.
Business Community: Omaha, with a population of 408,958, is the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies, and four Fortune 1000 companies.  The density of businesses in Omaha create an environment that enable startups to grow rapidly.  Especially for CAN, with our focus on helping businesses answer their most important business questions, Omaha was ideal because of the number of potential customers located just blocks away from our office.  CAN has also been able to take advantage of Omaha’s experienced and talented business executives to provide us the valuable mentoring and insight we need to succeed.

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