Is there a formulaic way to build a great startup? Today’s guest, Maxim Wheatley thinks so. Maxim comes from a very diverse background - he is an award-winning product leader and innovator, with proven success operating at the intersection of business development, innovation, and product strategy. Additionally, he is the co-founder of LifeFuels, a company that aims to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to to diagnose, manage, and cure health ailments. Maxim’s thoughts on entrepreneurship boil down to three basic tenets: “Dream big and start small, constantly seek new questions to answer, and remember that it’s the people who turn ideas into companies,” he says.
‘Dream Big & Start Small’
While it’s important to have vision, it’s also important to get comfortable to with taking small steps. “Like [Reddit Founder] Alexis Ohanian says, ‘Entrepreneur is a fancy word for someone who has ideas and does them’,” Maxim says. While having a big vision important, he urges entrepreneurs to figure out the small and intricate steps involved in helping them achieve their goals. He believes the lean startup culture has a certain bias to action that restricts founders from making moves as often as they should. “Early wins build momentum,” he remarks, “There is magic in relentlessly pushing as opposed to elegantly leaping.”
‘Constantly Seek New Questions to Answer’
Having a background in consumer electronic products, Maxim understands the hiccups that can come about when launching a business. “Great products are oriented around prototype questions. “If we’re doing something that doesn’t answer a question, it’s time to readjust,” he says. He urges entrepreneurs to constantly ask new questions and evaluate whether those questions link up to the ‘dream big’ portion of his theory. “Entrepreneurship can be a difficult and lonely road,” he mentions, “Asking new questions and getting them answered can provide you with a sense of victory.” While an inquisitive nature is important, Maxim warns against falling into an “incubator mentality”. Although testing can ensure success for future endeavors, he believes that there is “no validation or testing that will take away from the fact that you need to start taking action.”
‘It’s the People Who Turn Ideas into Companies’
Developing a team is a crucial part of turning ideas into a bonafide operation. If you had $5M and no one wanted to work for you, or $100K and seven people that were excited about your business opportunity, which scenario would you pick? “I’d pick the latter every time,” Maxim says. While many entrepreneurs find themselves working solo due to fear of criticism, egocentrism or lack of cash flow, he urges them to explore additional measures. “Find out how to pay people in different ways,” he says. Maxim recommends that entrepreneurs use their vision, as opposed to misguided promises of wealth, to attract their team. “Identify other currencies you have at your disposal. Find ways to help [your team] meet their short term and long term goals,” he says. By giving people the opportunity to be apart of something meaningful, he believes entrepreneurs will curate loyal teams.
Staying on Track
In order to stay focused, Maxim is intentional about these principles. While many startups often attract unsolicited opinions, he believes that successful founders understand how to weed through the noise, filter the quality feedback and turn it into meaningful action. Additionally, he stresses that goals should be simple. “The startup lifestyle is dog years multiplied by ten,” he laughs, “You have to try and not get too caught up in long term planning.” Rather, Maxim suggests that founders take time to ensure that their everyday activities are aligned with their bigger vision. He suggests that founders should ask themselves, “Is there meaningful progress? Are you creating something that you can show and evaluate? If not, change course.”
My very Uncommon Opinion: buying a house is a good investment
These days, it seems to be all the rage to tell people to “never buy a house.” Folks like Grant Cardone and James Altucher argue that buying a home eats up too much capital and never allows for a good return on investment. Well, to put this bluntly: They’re wrong, and I have the facts to prove it.
How much money are you really putting down?
If you’re an average millennial with decent credit, you’ll usually only be putting down 10% when you purchase your first home – far from some online arguments that assume a 20% to 40% down payment when arguing against home buying. That’s a big difference – $30,000 vs. up to $120,000 for a $300,000 home. Don’t rely on inaccurate assumptions; estimate what your down payment would be before deciding that buying isn’t for you.
People are overbuying on their first (or second, or third) house
When most people look at a mortgage offer from a bank, they purchase the most expensive house the bank will allow them to afford, which is a terrible idea. If a bank extends someone the credit to buy a $500,000 house, but a $300,000 home fits most of their needs, the less expensive home is a better financial and lifestyle choice. Remember, overextending yourself means you are actually buying a mortgage, not a house.
Many of the arguments against buying overlook making a sensible purchase, and use examples in which individuals are buying the most expensive home they can get their hands on. That seriously sways the numbers in favor of renting. Just because others are doing this doesn’t mean you have to – get a less expensive home so you can save and place more money into investment vehicles with a higher rate of return, or spend the difference on things you are passionate about.
Money spent on upgrading your lifestyle or yourself, such as traveling the world or finally firing up that great business idea, are a far better investment than a fancy address. Plus, you can always upgrade later, if you want.
Keep in mind, you have to live somewhere
One of the traditional arguments for buying a home is that you’re spending money on rent anyway, so you might as well invest it in something. This is still correct. As long as you make smart choices when you purchase a home, it’s better to invest in your own property rather than pay a landlord.
Think about it this way – you’re going to lose a lot of money renting over the years. If you lose less money over time by owning a house, you’ve made a great financial choice.
Homes nearly always appreciate in value, especially with maintenance and ‘smart’ improvements
If you let your home deteriorate and don’t maintain it, it’s a no-brainer that its value will decrease over time. However, if you maintain your home by investing in improvements that can increase its resale value, it’s likely to significantly increase in value over time.
Examples of improvements with a high rate of return include installing high-quality floors, maintaining bathrooms, and upgrading your home’s kitchen. Unfortunately, improvements to the backyard such as landscaping have low ROI, so you should avoid spending too much on them if you’re trying to maximize your home’s value.
Will I be stuck in my house forever?
Unlike what some folks say, buying a home doesn't chain you to one address for life. Unless you get really unlucky and purchase a place for well over its market value, you’re not going to get stuck for long – just sell the house and move into another. If you can’t, simply rent out your property and rent another somewhere else while you sort things out and wait for the original home’s value to increase.
Is this a good time to buy?
The housing crash of 2008 is still in recent memory and it has many first-time home buyers scared that they could overpay, only to see their residence quickly crash in value. So, to determine whether the housing market is overvalued (and thus headed for a bust) or if it still has a lot of room for stable growth, check out an analysis done by The Economist for a quick snapshot.
The magazine’s data team looked at two numbers: the ratio of price to income and price to rent, and found that houses in most American cities appear to be at fair value when compared to long-term averages. Some cities, however, like San Francisco, have homes that are extremely expensive compared to average incomes (meaning they could be destined for a fast fall), so it’s a good idea to dig into a city’s price-to-income and price-to-rent ratios before buying property there.
Profiting off of your home equity using “The Smith Manoeuvre” (for Canadian homeowners)
In the U.S., home mortgage payments are tax deductible (as long as it’s a primary residence), but in Canada, homeowners aren’t quite so lucky. However, Canadians can take out a home equity loan in order to invest money in income-producing entities (like dividend-paying stocks or rental property), and use the tax return to further pay down their mortgages.
It’s called the Smith Manoeuvre, and while it sounds complex, it’s a fantastic way for many homeowners to develop a sizeable investment portfolio and pay their mortgage at the same time. If you’re considering doing this, you should be confident in your investing skills – and be prepared with a Plan B if you need to move and the market goes down.
The bottom line: You should probably own a house
Should everyone go out right now and buy a house? Well, maybe not everyone. But if you're like most young people who earn a steady income and want to invest in their future, it’s absolutely the right move. If you still don’t believe me, run the numbers yourself with this calculator. It takes into account rent prices, mortgage rates, inflation levels, taxes, and variety of other factors to compare the long-term costs of renting vs. buying a residence.
We’re just a few days away from 2017! If you’re like most business owners, you’re looking for ways to evolve your marketing strategy next year. If so, this podcast is my New Year's gift to you. Former Paper Napkin Wisdom guest Joe Calloway recommended today’s guest, and I’m so glad he did. Jane Atkinson has over 25 years of experience securing top-tier speaking gigs for Fortune 500 C-Level executives.
In today’s podcast, we discuss her method that ensures success for her campaigns. Her three step process, “Ready, Aim, Fire”,which she outlines in her new book The Wealthy Speaker, provides the framework for her clients to succeed. “In the ‘Ready’ phase, we get crystal clear as to what we’re selling,” she says. Aim refers to gaining clarity around what the focus of the campaign will be, while ‘Fire’ is the execution of the campaign.
All great marketing plans have a formula and Jane’s “rule of threes” framework is no different. Prior to developing this outlook, she realized the need to develop a unique process. “I knew what I was talking about, but it wasn’t very organized,” she says. During the ready phase, she recommends entrepreneurs to gain clarity into what it is they’re selling. While this may be easy for some, she urges business owners to ensure that this clarity permeates all levels of the organization.
The aim phase is a bit more intense. “You have to pick a lane and narrow down where you’d like to be viewed as an expert,” she says. Developing a clear and concise promise statement is a large part of the aim phase. This statement “should explain what you do and who you do it for,” Jane recommends. She also puts a large emphasis on curating a target audience and understanding how the product or service will benefit them.
Following the aim phase, it’s time to “fire”. “Attempt to answer your buyers questions, then provide solutions,” she recommends.
This should be a cyclical process in any business, Jane says. “If your message isn’t resonating, ask yourself - are reaching out to the right market? Circle back to ready and evaluate,” she advises. While many entrepreneurs may be itching for change, she also warns against making major overhauls. Instead, she recommends strategic tweaks and evaluating strategies prior to moving forward. “I had a client who was looking to get in front of the healthcare community. He didn’t think our strategies were working. But it turned out that it was just taking more time that he was accustomed to,” Jane recalls. And, if a major overhaul is needed, Jane recommends that brands “put out feelers to see who the message resonates with the most in order to create momentum.”
It's normal for people to occasionally get stuck in the chaotic “ready” phase, but Jane says that it’s often fear that’s driving the bus. “If you're afraid, gain clarity around what's making you uncomfortable and refer to points in your past to combat that fear,” she says. While perfection is ideal, it’s also not very realistic. “[Business owners] need to be okay with not being perfect,” she says.
What phase are you currently in with your brand? What are some ways you can explore to become “unstuck”? Comment below (www.Facebook.com/PaperNapkinWisdom) or send us a Tweet at www.twitter.com/wisenapkin with your response.
Over the years, Paper Napkin Wisdom guests have described ways for entrepreneurs to structure their business and life in a way that gears them for success. While some topics have been complex, today’s podcast gets us back to the basic. Serial entrepreneur Bill Dallas explains his guiding principles in business and life for the past three decades. “Pairing means with meaning is the only way to live a full life,” he asserts. “Means” refers to the problems entrepreneurs solve, while “meaning” describes the purpose behind their efforts. He believes that merging the two ideals is the key to successful entrepreneurship and a happy life.
He started his businesses back in the 1980s in an old Victorian home. Back then, entrepreneurship was just barely in vogue. “I had to apply meaning to the things I was doing on a daily basis, even when they weren’t things I necessarily enjoyed doing,” Bill recalls. By deriving meaning from even the most mundane of tasks, he was able to parlay that passion and become the founder of several lending companies across the United States. “When you apply meaning to what you do today, you feel successful in the moment and it propels you to success and creates exponential results,” he says. He also doesn’t believe in putting any energy into tasks that don’t revolve around the ultimate goal, stating that it’s a waste of energy. “When you apply meaning to your means, the problems you solve and things you learn will end up teaching you where you need to go,” he remarks.
Bill has several nuggets derived from his years of experience. He believes in keeping things simple but intentional and authentic. In fact, Bill gives each of his new employees the acclaimed Robert Fulghum title All I Really Need to Know I’ve Learned in Kindergarten. “We already know pretty much everything we need to,” he says, “Living this way will attract like-minded people.”
He also believes that all entrepreneurs must embody four personas in order to be successful. “Act like an immigrant,” he says, “Have a chip on your shoulder, work hard and remember where you came from. You can’t be an entrepreneur and be entitled. ” Next, he urges entrepreneurs to be artisans and leave their mark on society. Thirdly, Bill advises entrepreneurs to act like a waitress or waiter, “They are the pinnacle of entrepreneurship. They know that their livelihood is dependent on the level of service they provide their customers.” Finally, he believes entrepreneurs should be coaches and serve as a mentor for their teams and fellow entrepreneurs.
By embodying these traits and principles, Bill believes any entrepreneur will find success – and, more importantly, meaning within their success. “Life is simple, just not easy,” he says, “Entrepreneurs should want a rich life more than they want riches.”
Just in time for Christmas, there’s cold weather in the upcoming forecast here in Ottawa. So it’s fitting that today’s podcast discusses ways to raise the temperature on company culture. If you’re a long-time Paper Napkin Wisdom fan, you’re familiar with Motivational Speaker and Leadership Consultant Jason Barger. In today’s chat, we focused on how companies can collaboratively create and maintain a positive culture, or in Jason’s words, “Be a thermostat; proactively set your temperature.” Jason details this sentiment in his new book Thermostat Culture. The book centers on the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat – while thermometers just report the temperature, the thermostat controls and regulates the environment. “Culture is dynamic,” Jason says, “The most successful cultures are proactively managed.”
For the past decade, organizations and pundits have become obsessed with company culture. But Jason points out that a great culture consists of more than foosball tables, catered lunches and casual attire. “We throw around the term ‘culture’ so loosely. Part of setting a thermostat culture revolves around constant measuring and re-aligning,” Jason remarks.
So, how can companies effectively measure this culture? Jason proposes a method he’s dubbed “The 6A Process”. First, leaders must assess the current temperature. Jason recalls an instance where he and his hiking companions lost their way in the Adirondacks.
“We weren’t clear where we were on the map,” he recalls, “Until you travel to Point Z, you have to know where point A is.” He suggests having “conversations about the currency for change”, in which organizations really take an honest look at their current culture and assess the need for change. The second ‘A’, aligning, refers to bringing the organization together to determine whether or not everyone is aligned on the assessment and the need for improvement. “Basically, everyone needs to collectively agree on whether or not they’re buying into it,” Jason says.
Once aligned, organizations need to begin to determine where they want to be. “A wise man once said ‘He who aims for nothing, hits it every time’,” Jason says. He suggests giving people space during this period and allowing them to buy in to the ultimate company culture vision. The fourth ‘A’ stresses the importance of clearly articulating the culture. Developing, revising or referring to a brand platform that outlines mission and vision statements, core values and key messages is especially helpful during this time.
The final two ‘A’s – action and anchor – go hand in hand. Organizations must decide what they need to do to ensure their culture permeates through all aspects of their business and develop systems to make it stick. “After these steps are complete, I remind people to revisit them every so often – especially during times where it seems like the culture is going off-kilter,” Jason advises.
Developing and maintaining a strong company culture is undoubtedly one of the tenets of a great organization. However, Jason warns organizations to not get too comfortable. “The phrase ‘We have a good culture’ should end with a comma, not a period. Whenever it ends with a period, I’ve found that the culture is in peril. There should always be conversations surrounding ways to keep the culture alive. You have to make that investment.”
The world loves leaders. We write books and television shows about them and promote leadership as one of the defining qualities of a successful person. However, today’s guest Bill Treasurer, has a somewhat unorthodox take on what great leadership should really look like. After spending the last two decades as an author and leadership development coach for Fortune 500 brands, he has concluded that we have been wrong in our approach to the concept and essence of leadership.
“The first law of leadership is ‘It’s not about you’,” he says. A self-described leadership plumber (“I’m the one who gets the hairballs out,” he jokes), Bill explores this concept in his latest book entitled A Leadership Kick in the Ass. “I got the concept from my son. He was chosen to be class leader for the day. When I asked him how it went, he said ‘I got to open doors for people’,” Bill recalls. This seemingly innocuous but impactful statement revealed to Bill that one of the basic tenets of leadership was being overlooked. “Emerging leaders have sharp elbows of ambition. Sometimes leaders forget that the central of idea is about those being led. It’s never about the leader,” he says.
While leaders are praised for being exceptional motivators, Bill describes leaders as Chief Opportunity Creators for both their people and their organization. Instead of judging individuals and teams by their own cadence, Bill urges leaders to exude patience. “99% of the leaders I meet are impatient,” he says, “But leaders must accept that people will take time to walk through the door you open for them.”
With the number of responsibilities on their plate, leaders must find time to refocus – not only on the company’s goals – but also their leadership style. The renowned innovator Steve Jobs reportedly had a similar refocusing period after he was fired from Apple in the mid-80s. “He got back to the essentialism of it all. We learn best from experience and our transformational humiliating events,” Bill says.
Leaders must learn how to authentically rebuild themselves in order to provide the greatest value to their team. Additionally, leaders can refocus by setting vision and getting team members to become emotionally invested its success. “Growth is good, but it’s just an outcome or an ends to the means. People and investment are the means,” Bill remarks.