Friday, June 28, 2013

Dream a Little Dream...

"Money can’t buy happiness... but it does allow you to rent it for a while"     ~Anonymous

Last Saturday was a bright sunny day...
I found myself in a lawn chair, sipping an ice cold beer, sifting my toes through the sand and listening to the waves crash onto the shore.
Summer has arrived, so several of my friends and I decided it was finally time to enjoy one of the perks of living in San Diego with a trip to the beach.
As we relaxed, one of my friends commented that if he ever won the lottery, he would be a permanent fixture at the beach... not a local San Diego beach but rather an exotic beach... hidden in some remote location.
Another friend chimed in and told the group that if he ever won the lottery, he would purchase a private island in the Caribbean and invite all his friends and family to join him several months a year.
Attentions then turned to me...
"So Jim... exactly what would you do if you won the lottery?"
With a very serious face, I proclaimed to my friends that, believe it or not, I had actually won the lottery several years ago.
My friends were in disbelief...
"Really!... how much did you win?"
"Well the Jackpot was over $40 million that week...
...however I only won $2... well... $2 before taxes of course".
A big laugh overcame the audience...
"Seriously (as if talk about winning the lottery can be serious)... I don’t think winning the lottery jackpot would change my life one iota".
I would never quit my job... I absolutely love what I do...
I wouldn’t buy a bigger house... and in fact... I want to live in a smaller house in a few years as the kids grow up and move out (hopefully)...
I love my wife way too much to think about trading her in for a younger model...
I already drive a reliable, comfortable and sporty car... no need for another one...
I’ve been to 56 countries and 41 states... and currently spend 10-15 weeks on the road each year... so do I really need to travel more?
Buy a boat?... a plane?
I have all the things I’d ever want/need...
Perhaps I would donate a bit more money to my favorite charities I suppose...
As I finished rattling off the laundry list of my life in the presence of my friends... I sat back and smiled and smugly pronounced that life is pretty darn good at the moment...
Later that afternoon I took a quiet walk along the shoreline thinking about the earlier lottery conversation...
I’ve heard about how winning the lottery could be a godsend to some people and a curse to others (I am told that there is even a cable reality television show that chronicles the lives of past lottery winners... ).
With just a few exceptions... coming into a great deal of money, be it the lottery, an inheritance, or a windfall of any kind doesn’t really change the true nature of a person... rather it just magnifies it.
If someone was hard-working, was faithful and had a high level of integrity, had a great sense of purpose, was an optimist, made well thought-out decisions, was generous, intelligent, and had a lot of energy, initiative and drive... then it is highly likely that after winning the lottery they will, more than likely, continue to possess these same positive characteristics...
On the other hand... if a lottery winner was typically lazy, blamed others for their own faults, had problems with fidelity, tended to have emotional outbursts, was greedy, struggled with addictions, was compulsive, was a pathological liar, was disrespectful of themselves and others, was self-righteous, was a pessimist, closed minded, and/or mean... then no amount of money will change this person...
... and more than likely... their lottery winnings will soon evaporate and they will find themselves back in the exact same situation that they were in prior to winning the lottery...
Now I personally do not know anyone who has actually ever won a lottery jackpot (more than $1M)... but I do know several people who have become "overnight" multimillionaires... due to the sale of an appreciated asset (primarily from real estate and entrepreneurial venture).
One day these people were struggling to make a payroll... the next day they were worth 10’s or 100’s of millions of dollars...
I don’t really equate these people to lottery millionaires per se... but they did happen to be at the right place... at the right time... with the right product / service / idea... selling their asset to the right buyer (sometimes the right buyer is the general public when the company shares are publicly listed on a stock exchange).
If it is one day your turn to be on the winning side of a major financial windfall (lottery, inheritance, sale of an asset)... I have a few suggestions for you...  
  1. Never forget who you were, who you are, and what you hope that you will be some day. Remember... money doesn’t change a person’s character... it only magnifies it.
  2. Assemble and hire a great professional team to advise you. Then hire watchdogs whose sole purpose is to help you watch and monitor your team. There are plenty of scammers out there who prey upon others when a lot of money is involved.
  3. Learn as much as you can yourself about tax law, investments, and accounting. Always be in control and have the last say about any investment or tax strategy.
  4. Don’t go crazy buying stuff. Sure... your company just went public giving you a net worth of $100M... so it’s okay to treat yourself to the 1962 Ferrari 250GTO you’ve always dreamed about... but you certainly don’t need a fleet of classic cars - along with garages with attached houses to keep them in.
  5. Diversify... diversify... diversify. Never keep all of your eggs in one basket... EVER!
  6. Do good works... plan to give back some of your wealth each year to charitable entities... and get personally involved so you can personally see where you money is helping others.
I have already had the good fortune to be a winner in the lottery ($2)... and have retired from playing... therefore I know - with absolute certainty - that I’ll never be a jackpot winner (although my friend Ed claims that odds of finding a winning ticket are not really that much different than buying a winning ticket... so maybe I’ll get really lucky and find a winning ticket one day).
Maybe OptiFuse will one day bring me great riches...
...and if it never does... it’s okay... because I’m living my dreams each and every day...
It is my sincere wish that you too dream of a better life... a better community... and a better world in which we all live in... and that you’re living a rich and fulfilling life... a life that riches just can’t buy...
Thank you so much for your support of OptiFuse, where we like to remind you that you’re the master of your own dreams.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Playing Salesman Roulette...

I was at my monthly happy hour meeting with a small group of entrepreneurs when the subject of sales people arose... specifically hiring good sales people.  

I listened intently to the gripes and complaints of my associates, each telling horror stories of sales people that they had previously hired and subsequently fired.

My friends believed that they had done a good job in their hiring process... finding capable candidates with lots of industry experience... conducting multiple interviews... and hiring who they thought was a professional sales person with a long track record of outstanding sales.

The newly hired sales person is a professional at saying all the right things and completing sales reports... but really have no idea as to selling anything.

After a while, it is apparent that no new sales are being generated and then they realize that they have made a big mistake in hiring this person.

In the end, the only thing that this experienced sales person ever sold was themselves to the company that hired them.

The company, now desperate to hire a new sales person to replace the old one, repeats the process above almost in an endless loop.

The difficulty is that hiring sales is very much different than hiring engineers or accountants.
With engineers, it is very easy to immediately identify and test for a very specific skill set... not so with sales people where it can take several months for the sales cycle to complete... so you really don’t know what you’re getting until a good deal of time has already passed. 
There are actually several obstacles in hiring quality sales people.
First and foremost... there simply aren’t that many great (or even good) sales people out there.
Oh sure... there are plenty of people who call themselves sales people but in reality most sales people are nothing more than mediocre... at best...
Still as entrepreneurs we inherently know that nothing really happens at a company until a sale is made. So we go out and try to find quality sales people to help grow our companies.
A typical company might use the following process to hire sales people: 
  1. Drafting a job description of the daily duties of a sales person.
  2. Post the job description in all the usual places like, the career center at our local Universities, governmental employment offices and in the local newspaper.
  3. Receive 100’s of replies with attached resumes.
  4. Sift through the resumes for previous work experience within the industry.
  5. Conduct several interviews with a few select candidates.
  6. Hire one of the candidates... spend a few days training them on specific products and a few applications.
  7. Give them an account list and send them out into their territory so that they can start making sales.
One doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict the results from these new hires.
After a prolonged "honeymoon" period... the sales person isn’t making the progress that you had hoped for.
So you tell yourself that they just need some more training and management. Maybe they are just spending their time doing unproductive things, so you start having them keeping a log as to where their time is being spent (call reports).
Sales activities seem to improve slightly... but actual sales remain flat... but you rationalize the situation by telling yourself that sales activity will some day lead to actual sales.  
After some more time has passed... you have the "things need to change... or things WILL change" talk with your sales person.  You try to scare them into trying just a bit harder...
Finally... after a good deal of time has wasted... you finally come to the realization that this sales person, who was supposed to help increase sales, is just costing the company a lot of money and time... and the sales person is fired.
You, as a smart individual, decide that this time around you’re going to do it a different way... so you make the decision to hire (and pay) a superstar sales person from one of your competitors (if you can even identify who those superstars really are).
The problem is that truly superstar sales people aren’t necessarily unhappy with where they are currently at. At their current place of employment they already know their products, they already have a well-developed client base, and more than likely they’re already making buckets of money (this is why they are super stars to begin with).
Unless a big change has occurred at their current employer (perhaps a change in management... or a new commission plan that caps earnings)... that super star sales person isn’t going to jump ship... they are very happy where they are.
Also... just because they are a superstar at one company... doesn’t mean that they will be a superstar with your company.

A superstar sales person at IBM or SAP might fail miserable at a new startup company where resources are slim and marketing departments non-existent.
So if hiring mediocre industry retreads is a bad idea (and it is) and hiring super stars is next to impossible (or at a minimum truly unaffordable)... then what is the answer?
After discussing this problem with several people I hold as experts in this field, the consensus is that a company wishing to create a world-class sales force has to be dedicated to training and developing their own sales people.
The most successful sales companies understand that it takes a certain breed of individual to become a top sales person.

These companies take great pains in looking for people who have very specific personality characteristics, the proper attitude, and an outstanding aptitude.
They understand that they can teach people about products, applications and certain sales skills, but they can’t train a person to be a problem solver, or to be curious, or to be creative. These personality traits are inherent to a certain type of individual.
Successful sales companies have pinpointed the specific personality traits that lead a successful sales path.
Their entire interview and selection process then helps them to identify those individual who possess these traits and those who don’t.
Once these soon-to-be -salespeople are hired, they are then placed in an intensive training program. The training process will determine if the person has the right mental makeup and determination to become a professional sales person.
If a person graduates from the sales training program, then they are asked to continuously perform at the highest levels. The companies achieve this by benchmarking and setting attainable yet challenging goals and metrics for its sales force.
If you believe that this process sounds expensive and time-consuming, you’d be absolutely correct. Doing something the right way always takes a bit more in terms of time and money...
But I think of all the time and money that is constantly wasted in hiring bad sales people... not even counting the cost of lost opportunities and damage to the company’s brand.
At OptiFuse, we have decided to take this route of hiring and developing sales people based on personality traits and talent not necessarily sales skills.
(By the way... If you happen to know someone who might just have what it takes... then please take a moment to forward this email to them.

A full description of the position can be found by
clicking here or download the job description in PDF format by clicking here.)
Finding quality sales people is one of the hardest things a company can do... it can easily be the most costly if done wrong... but also the most rewarding... for both the sales person and the company... if done right...
The success of a business should not be left to the luck of the wheel but rather it needs to be an engineered result with a purpose and goal in mind...   
Thank you so much for your continuous support of OptiFuse, as we thank you in advance for helping us to help you.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Extreme Sports...

If you want to experience all of the successes and pleasures of life... you need to be able to endure the pains and failures that come with it.
~ Mat Hoffman
Extreme Sport Enthusiast

If I were to ask you to think about the most grueling endurance events on the planet, you might name one of the following events (after a quick Google search perhaps): 
  • The Tour de France
  • The Iditarod dogsled race
  • Marathon des Sables
  • Badwater Ultra Marathon
Now mind you each of these events is indeed an epic feat which will test the extents of human will and spirit.

France hosts what is arguably the toughest cycling stage-race competition, Le Tour de France each July.

The Tour de France consists of 21 day-long segments within a 23-day span covering some 2,100 miles by approximately 200 professional riders from 20 qualifying teams. And while the exact course changes from year-to-year, the overall distance typically remains constant.

A stage may consist of an individual time trial, a team time trial, or a longer mass start stage where a large group of riders (peloton) will travel together averaging 25-30 miles per hour over a 100-160 mile course, often through the steep French Alps or the Pyrenees Mountains.

In great contrast to the hot July summers in France, the Iditarod Dog Sled race is held annually in early March. The race is held on a 1,125 mile course between Anchorage and Nome Alaska. A race entry consists of one musher and a team of 16 dogs.

The race attracts some 50 teams who will brave sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds for a chance to win a $50,000 prize.

Between 12 and 16 specially bred Siberian Huskies pull a musher and sled over the course with a winning time of less than 9 days including mandatory stops and rest breaks.

If extreme running is more your style, then there are two events worth noting.

The Marathon des Sables is a six-day ultra-marathon held in the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco each April. The race is 156 miles which is the equivalent of six regular distance marathons.

The race is run in a stage format not unlike that of the Tour de France with the cumulative winning time of just under 21 hours for six days of racing.
Each of the 1,000 competitors must carry their own food and more importantly water with them during each stage where Saharan temperatures can easily reach triple digits.

Moroccan legendary ultra-marathoner, Lahcen Ahansal has won the race an incredible 10 times over its 25 year history, with his brother Mohammed winning 3 additional times. 
If Morocco is a bit out of the way, then perhaps you should think about summering in California where each July, the Badwater ultra-marathon is held.

The race is by invitation only and pits the best 100 or so ultra-long-distance runners against one another and the extreme elements.

Runners begin in Death Valley at an elevation of -282 feet and typical July temperatures exceeding 120 degrees (as measured in the shade... not on the much hotter black asphalt).
The race ends in Whitney Portal, a small town nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of 8,360 feet. The distance between the start and the end is 135 miles and the total elevation gain over the total course is over 13,000 feet.

Winners will finish the race in just under 34 hours with about 30-40% of the runners unable to reach the finish line.

Although all of the above races are testaments to the human spirit and sheer will, they all pale in comparison to what is arguably the toughest of all races, the Race Across America (RAAM).

RAAM is a 3,100 mile bicycle race from the Pacific Ocean in Oceanside, CA to the Atlantic Ocean in Annapolis, MD.

Unlike a stage race format like the Tour de France, RAAM utilizes a "continuous clock" format where there is only one beginning and one end point with the clock running all the time.

And while certain conditions of the ultra-marathons might be considered more extreme, those races are typically held in a stage format (running a bit each day) or are completed usually within a day and a half.

RAAM racers ride around the clock for 9-12 days straight, sleeping for only 1-2 hours each day (one REM cycle) before they are hoisted back on their bikes by crew members and sent back to the road.

The terrain varies from coastal mountains (~4,000’) to the scorching hot Mojave Desert, through the high deserts of Arizona, up and down the Rocky Mountains (~12,000’), through the humid heartland of Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana, into the Ohio Valley and over the Appalachian Mountains (~3,000’).

Over the entire course of the race, riders will have climbed (and descended) a total of close to 190,000’, burned more than 100K calories, and pedaled at an average speed of just over 15 miles per hour!!

Toward the end of the race, many of the racers will experience hallucinations, severe dehydration, joint swelling, saddle sores, complete numbness of their extremities and muscular failure (to a point where they are unable to keep their head propped up).

This past week, I went to Oceanside to watch the start of RAAM. For a great majority of the riders, this was not their first RAAM. Even after all of the great physical pain and mental anguish, these same racers have come back to do it all over again.

As I stood at the starting line watching one rider after another begin their journey, I wondered to myself, just what it was that drove them to push themselves to the absolute limits of human endurance.

I thought about all of the pain that they must suffer through and the sheer determination and will that drives them to ignore the pain and keep going... mile after mile...
There is nothing that will stop them from completing their mission...

...not the sleep deprivation
...not the mountains that they must scale
...not the scalding heat of the desert
...not the stifling humidity of the Midwest

They are solely focused on one thing... crossing the finish line.

Nothing else matters...

There are many times when I wish I had the mental make-up to ignore the pain... shut off the distractions... stop worrying about the multitudes of obstacles in front of me...

However... there are those times when I feel like quitting... giving up... taking the easy road...

...but it’s at those times when I conjure up images of those who have continued to push themselves... taken themselves to the limits...

I know at that point that I can take just one more step... do one more thing... try just that much harder...

It’s within us all to go that one more step...

Thank you so much for your continuous support of OptiFuse, where we hope to work just a little harder to earn your business.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Tale of Three Young Men...

I recently had the opportunity to watch an incredible video of Eric Thomas, the "Hip-Hop Preacher" trying his best to motivate some students at Michigan State. 

This week I’d like to talk about three young men, whom I have known since they were born. Each is now approximately 20 years old and each has chosen a completely different path from one another.

The first young man is named Mario. Mario is the product of a broken home and essentially raised by his mother since he was only 4 or 5 years old (although his father was always around and is still very much a part of his life). He is an only child.

Mario’s parents both worked outside the home. His mother was a production planner for a small assembly company and his father was a salesman for an office furniture company.

His mother and he lived comfortably but not lavishly in a small two bedroom condominium in a blue-collar neighborhood.

From an early age, you could see that Mario was raised with a strong work ethic and was taught good manners and etiquette. His mother stressed personal responsibility and gave him the ability to be independent at an early age.

Each day he came home from school, did his homework, and helped to prepare dinner for his mom and himself.

He received straight A’s throughout his grade school and high school years mostly through hard work, discipline and dedication.

Mario had several hobbies such as cars, photography, and electronic gadgetry. On weekends, he worked around his neighborhood to earn extra money to support his hobbies.

His hard work in school paid off when he was admitted to attend UCLA on a (near) full-ride scholarship to study mechanical engineering.

His life-long goal is to learn how to design and build cars and in particular engines.

He has just finished his junior year and is on track to finish this rigorous degree (normally a five year program) in only four years... due mostly in part to taking several summer school classes instead of hanging out at the beach all summer.

I have no doubt that Mario will achieve his dreams of being an engineer and designing cars one day due to his incredible work ethic and his laser focus on his goals.

The second young man is named Ian.

Ian is also an only child of two working parents living in a blue-collar neighborhood.

Like Mario, Ian too had big dreams growing up but instead of wanting to become an automotive engineer like Mario, Ian instead had dreams of becoming a major league baseball pitcher.

He started playing baseball at a young age and showed a lot of promising talent (well... for a 5 year old that is).

His parents allowed him to play on several all-star caliber little-league teams going with him to practices and games. While on these travel teams, he received coaching and specialized attention to help him learn the basic fundamentals of playing baseball, the mechanics of pitching, and the art of hitting.

Although Ian typically played baseball 6-8 months a year, his parents also kept him focused on his studies. He would only be allowed to play baseball if and only if he maintained his grades in school.

Ian continued to play and learn new skills. He was one of those kids who were deemed "coachable" by always playing hard, maintaining a positive attitude (even when things didn’t always go his way), and listening to his teachers and mentors as they tried to make him a better player.  

Ian was not only privileged to have hand-eye skills at an early age, but he was also extremely fortunate to develop a physique that would allow him to reach the lofty goals that he had set for himself... growing to 6’ 2" developing a muscular frame through high school.

As you might imagine, Ian attracted the attention of college and professional scouts who could see that Ian had developed, not only into a fine baseball player, but into a poised and mature young man.

After many athletic scholarship offers from universities across the country, Ian selected the University of San Diego to stay close to his home base.

This year, Ian led his high school team to their third consecutive county championship game. He set the San Diego County all-time strike-out record and completed the year with an ERA under 1.00 (this stat measures how many runs he gives up over a 9 inning span).

This morning, Ian was named the county’s baseball player of the year by the San Diego Union Tribune.

About 7pm this evening (local time), Ian Clarkin was drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft fulfilling his goal of one day playing professional baseball.

While an offer to play professional baseball for the New York Yankees might be tempting, Ian was also named one of the top scholar athletes in the county and might very well end up accepting the scholarship offered to him by USD in order to earn a college diploma as well as playing  baseball.

The last young man I know is Jacob.

Like Mario, Jacob grew up in working-class neighborhood.  He is not an only child but rather is the second of two.

Jacob is extremely intelligent, polite and socially aware.  He has a multitude of friends and a vast network of family connections.

He also seems to suffer from a lack of any real motivation to do anything but hang out with his friends, watch TV and play video games.

At one time in his life he was involved with his church, Boy Scouts, and organized youth sports... but ended up quitting once it took a little bit of work and discipline.

His parents have pushed and prodded him to do his school work but he has always been content with barely passing grades doing the least amount of work possible to eke by. 
His parent have tried enrolling Jacob in  private schools, hired tutors, and spent countless amount of hours trying to keep him on task.

They have tried to punish him (by taking privileges away from him) and have tried to offer him rewards for achieving goals that he set for himself.

Although he always seems to start out with the best intentions, he grows lazy after a short amount of time and chooses to forgo the incentives.

He is not motivated by money... until he discovers that he wants to buy something... at which time he will work just long and hard enough to earn the appropriate sum he needs and then quits.

He managed to scrape through high school with barely enough credits to graduate and has been attending a community college... passing only a handful of classes in a two years span.

At the urging of his parents, I met with Jacob recently and asked him about his goals.

He told me that he was hoping one day to graduating college and buy a house.  When I pressed him for more details on his "plan"... he simply dismissed me by telling me that he had it all worked out in his head and that I shouldn’t spend my time worrying about him.

His parents recently have told him that unless he raises his grades to a minimum level, he would be asked to vacate the family home at the end of the year. Jacob doesn’t seem to be fazed by this edict and has told them that he doesn’t mind living on the streets if he’s asked to leave.

Jacob’s parents and friends are rightfully concerned for him, but he is now a young adult who doesn’t even seem to care about his own welfare.

For the most part, Jacob is not considered spoiled or privileged.  He simply just doesn’t seem to care about himself or the community in which he lives.

Three different boys raised with basically the same family resources.  Each with a loving and caring family.  Each with a high level of intelligence and natural abilities.

The large difference I see in these three young men is that two of them have envisioned their future and are doing things today that will make their dreams a reality...

Whereas the third young man continues to live in the moment of here and now... completely unprepared and unmotivated to prepare himself for the future that still lies ahead.

I’m incredibly excited for Mario and Ian and the bright futures that lie ahead for these two young men. 

I’m equally concerned for Jacob and the multitude of others like him.  No one can change another person’s direction in life until that person decides for themselves that they want to change.

It’s sad to me that a young man with so much promise has decided to squander his opportunities away while there are so many other young men and women around the world who have no such resources...

... but it is truly his decision and his entire fate remains solely in his own hands.

We all have our hands full... living our own lives... so it is impossible to try and live someone else’s life for them. 

Thank you so much for your support of OptiFuse, where we hope to help and inspire all young people to succeed in life and making their own mark on the world.