Tuesday, November 13, 2012

More BRIM: Insights and Analysis

Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By Doctor

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, time for more BRIM. Again, for those scoring at home, BRIM stands for Bringing Relentless Innovation to Michigan, and was the title to an informative and inspirational conference last week at the OneUpWeb office in Traverse City. If you missed it, please check out my summary/recap of theevent.

Today, I want to delve more into the content of the conference and what was discussed beyond the general theme of the importance of entrepreneurship.

We’ll begin with a quick review of Rick DeVos’ keynote address. “I start things” was how Rick introduced himself and what he does. Of course, when those things include Art Prize, the world’s largest open art competition, and Start Garden, a fresh new venture capital firm, well then, that’s how you get invited to give the keynote at events such as BRIM.

Rick described entrepreneurship as analogous to sea exploration in a talk titled “Launch the Ships.” It is an apt metaphor, Dr. House would approve. We are just as must in an age of exploration as when Columbus sailed west, and we must foster a dynamic culture of entrepreneurship to drive that exploration. To that end, Rick had three points.
  1. “Get Curious” – Continually ask yourself and others, “What if…?” and “What if we…?” Use that curiosity and those questions to initiate action. At some point, someone asked, “what if we built a ship?” Centuries later, Columbus asked “What if the world was round and I could sail ships around the world?”
  2. “Make Failure Survivable” – Columbus sailed west with three ships, but the Santa Maria had to be abandoned in the new world. For venture capital firms, such as Start Garden, only a few big successes will pay for the investment in all the others. 
  3. “Launch the Ships (and hope some come back)” – Eventually you have to set sail on your ideas and see where they lead you. It may be profit and fulfillment or it may likely be failure, but you won’t know until you cast off. Columbus was looking for a passage to the Indies. Instead he came upon two continents and another ocean in the way. No models or projections had North or South America in the way.

Those points go beyond entrepreneurship and starting a business, but also reflect public policy tendencies. People, particularly in Michigan, have a tendency to try and plan our way out of everything. Nowhere is this more prevalent in politics, “if only we had a better plan” or someone else in charge. The truth is that there is not a white knight with “one plan to rule them all” to ride in and make all our problems go away. It takes local knowledge and solutions; entrepreneurial solutions.

And yes, people other than Rick DeVos spoke at BRIM. Here are more insights from an informative and inspirational day in Traverse City:

Business Plans – A few people brought business plans receiving too much emphasis. Remember, it’s a piece of literature; it does not need to be comprehensive. Yes, it’s still important, but it is more important to focus on your business, your idea implementation and generation, not spreadsheets and made up projections. When asked, even Rick DeVos stressed that it is more important to get marketplace validation than obsess over market share projections. Unlike the lottery, costs and payoffs cannot be calculated in life.

New Economy – Another tidbit that was discussed at BRIM, that I’ve heard more and more of these days is that we are entering a 1099 or self-employed economy. We may already be there. Look around, people aren’t in jobs that they expect to be in for the next 30-40 years. It is even more important to be creative and entrepreneurial in how you market yourself. Don’t focus on how to operate in the existing model. Look to change the model.

More bits from the panel discussions after the jump...

All well and good, but what are the top skills of an entrepreneur?

  • Relationships – Be a builder. Make friends. Be a good friend.
  • Listen – Be a keen and active listener.
  • Deliver on your promises – “Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it, to the best of your ability.” (Lisa Wehr)
  • Be relentless – Most businesses fail. Raising cash is tough and it is scary to go out on your own. Entrepreneurs need to push through the “no’s”. How one handles obstacles and pushes through defines them. 
  • Be curious – Ask “what if” and “what if we” questions.
  • Know your core strengths – Surround yourself with people who challenge and compliment you with their skill sets. Have outside council that will hold your feet to the fire.

On Michigan

  • The automotive industry is still incredibly important. Entrepreneurs need to leverage the infrastructure and market of the car industry. There is still run for innovation and value in the automotive industry that entrepreneurs can help create, particularly in Michigan.
  • The tax environment remains an obstacle to growth for Michigan businesses and their ability to flourish.
  • Entrepreneurship needs to be nourished. It is easier to nourish and help small businesses grow than it is to attract big employers. And even easier than it is to start all over again.
  • The Michigan brand (Pure Michigan) and Michigan pride is at an all time high. Yes, the MEDC has done an incredible job with the Pure Michigan campaign, but more importantly, the brand and that sense of pride has grown organically. 


  • Authentic Branding – Do some soul searching and identify who you are and what you offer before you put yourself out there. OneUpWeb concluded that “Relentless” was a key word to their identity and what they offer, and have branded themselves as such.
  • Listen – In leading up to the Pure Michigan campaign, the MEDC conducted a lot of research into the value Michigan has to offer. One of the key comments they received was that “Michigan is like Alaska, but closer.” That comment had a huge impact on the campaign and the focus on Michigan’s authentic, unique, and natural resources and attractions. Social media is another great tool to listen, learn, answer questions such as who and where your customers are?
  • Guerrilla Tactics – Get your idea, product, and service out in front of real people. Use tools and resources readily and cheaply available. Radio and local news love highlighting new businesses and products (plus free stuff). Drop off samples. Utilize that interest; the potential in public relations is huge for start ups.
  • Digital Tools – Use the digital tools (e.g. social media) not only to connect, but to maximize face time the face time of your customers with your product/business. Use it to direct them to visit you at events and trade shows. Give your brand a face and a personality to make an emotionally compelling connection.

Marketing to a Mobile Audience

More and more people have smart phones and mobile devices which makes it more important to have goals and a strategy as to how you hope to connect with your customers. Before you delve into the mobile market, define your goals be it lead generation, sales, social media followers, or feedback. Once you define your goals, you can identify strategies and channels.
  • Big Buttons – There’s a good Spinal Tap Big Bottoms joke in here somewhere let me find it. Oh wait, I can’t because I have huge fingers and I can’t click the little tiny link in the middle of your email on my smart phone. If you want people to click on something in an email or on a website they are likely to be viewing on a handheld device, use a button big enough that it is easy to see and click on.
  • Direct Messaging – Email remains a great way to stay on top of the mind of your customers. SMS (short messaging) is another option. Offer customers the opportunity to sign-up or opt in to your email list or “exclusive texting clubs.”
  • Mobile Websites – Coding matters as more and more people view websites on mobile devices. Do you have a responsive design website or a separately coded mobile website? Discuss this coders when you approach them to help build your site and make sure you see their portfolios.
  • QR Codes – Apparently not everyone is on board with QR Codes or has caught. Part of that may be due to how it has been used and another is that while a lot of people have smart phones, it isn’t everybody and not everyone is using them yet. First lesson, don’t use a QR code to just send people to your homepage. Use QR codes for a specific and unique purpose; you need to make it worthwhile for the person to get their phone out, open the app, and scan the code.
  • Track Everything – The metrics are there. Use them.

Social Media

As I mentioned yesterday, this was the liveliest panel, and an impressive group. Social media can be a valuable tool for marketing, public relations, recruitment, customer relations, and even for engineering and design (GM). There are risks involved because you can’t always control the conversation, but if done well you can direct the conservation and use it to great advantage. The biggest take away from the panel is that social media is a part of everything you do.
  • Passion – Customers can be extremely passionate; use that passion to your advantage by leveraging emotional touchpoints (sounds dirty). Let your customers be your advocates.
  • Humanize Your Brand – Acknowledge mistakes, and more importantly use mistakes to publically address and solve problems and rectify mistakes. If something needs to go offline, return later to publically identify how it was addressed.
  • Flexibility to React – Planned content is very important, but you need to retain the ability to react to the conservation, direct it, and stay engaged.
  • Share-able Content – Create content that your audience can relate to and is easy to share. 
  • Track Everything – The metrics are there. Use them.

(I apologize for not having directly attributed quotes from all of the panel members. These were pulled from my notes; I'm not a professional journalist, nor did I have official transcripts or a recording to pull quotes from. I hope you enjoy the insights. You can see the full list of panelists on the BRIM page.)

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