August 31, 2007

Be Encouraging...and Honest

A few weeks back I posted about starting kevin sturm Consulting. Starting your own company is nerve racking, stressful, overwhelming, and really fun. The amount of responses I got to my email was almost overwhelming. I have five weeks left in my job and the amount of encouragement I have recieved in starting out on my own is making me feel so blessed.

If you haven't sent someone an encouraging message today, do so. It feels great to give and get encouragement.

Here is some of the messages I got. The title of my post is "Be Encouraging...and Honest". One response I got was so wonderfully honest (the bottom one). It was from Chrystal's aunt who is/was uber successful and smart. Loved this one becuase it helps me keep perspective of how some potential customers may be.

"congrats dude... i'll be praying for you. i've been in the same boat of late, where i feel like i need to take the fork in the road. hopefully soon we'll find you with a wealth of clients to consult and me with a new book on the store racks... " -jw

"Way to go Kevin!! The first step is the hardest but once you've madethe decision, all that's left is making it work. Word will get aroundand soon you'll have to hire your own staff to keep up with it all andnext thing you know, you'll live next door to Omphara. I'm excited foryou. The next few years are going to be interesting for your family.Take some advice from an old fart? Stay intimate with your loved onesand keep what's important to you close to your heart. Don't let thejob swallow you up. That's it, no more advice." -jb

_________ (this one blew me away)
"Hey buddy. Congratulations on taking such a big step; I know it's got a be a little scary walking away from everything that you've worked for, but if anyone can do it, I know you can. I also know that you wouldn't do this without going through everything that you needed to, and getting the right answers. :) I just want to make sure that you know that, in the event you run a little short on working capital before you get everything up and running, let me know - I don't have much, but I'll help out as much as I can, financially or any other way. I have that kind of confidence and faith in your abilities and know that you've been in the business
long enough to make this work. Sounds like I should start the Kevin Sturm Fan Club, huh? :) Keep me posted; you'll be in my thoughts and prayers. Just don't forget us little people when you're rolling in more money than you can ever spend! :)" -kd
"Wow! How fun, You go Kevito. As in everything that you have tackled thus far, I am positive you will give it your all and be a screaming success." -tl

"Hi, KevinCongratulations on following your heart. I wish you well. My one piece of advice (for now) is to attend to marketing one full day of every week. " -bp

"I wish you well in your new opportunity. It is not easy to take the riskier path, but that path may be the right one for you. You will never know unless you try, and if you never tried you would always regret not trying. I'm betting you will be successful. I wish you well & I look forward to hearing about your progress." -jd

Nicole and I wish you the best of luck in your new venture. Please let us know if there is ever anything we can do to help you out. One thing that we have found in building Nicole's marketing consulting business is that you need as much help as you can get from your friends. We are here for you if you need us. A challenge of starting your own business is that there are so many things that you need to accomplish, and you are behind from day one. Its not that its all hard to understand or difficult to accomplish, the challange seems to be that there are so many things to get done that its hard to think of them all and to consider all the issues before deciding how to act. We found the book Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss to be very helpful. Its not an earth shattering book full of revolutionary ideas, but it is a very helpful and complete list of things to get done with some good ideas about how to accomplish each." -db

_________ (I love the honesty)
I know you are excited about your new opportunity, Kevin, and we sincerely hope it turns out fantastic for you. I have some misgivings, but that is because I see life through different filters than you do,which is okay, and what makes the world turn round.........I rarely if ever worked with consultants that I thought were worth a flip, so I tend to be suspicious of anything that has the word consultant in it. Like you said in your blog, though, integrity is the single most important description that could ever be attached to your business name - never compromise that, although it may be harder than you think when you need your fee to cover a house payment and groceries for the month..... I personally never ran across any consultant in my career who didn't have all kinds of hidden agendas that made it impossible for them to be objective. Hopefully, you can be the first competent one I'll meet! Having said all that stuff-with-a-slightly-negative-bent however, we do wish you only the best and hope you are wildly successful... Keep your goals and your principles lofty, have a plan, and another one to back the first one up! We're rooting for you............" -aw

August 25, 2007

Don’t Have/Be Lazy Customer Support

Have you ever have one of those days where you were having a really great day, and then a single experience turns it all around? Like the kind of experience that leaves you with a head ache and you want to scream into a pillow. Today was one of those days.

It’s about 9:00 pm tonight and I was supposed to be on my way to Macao as of about 30 minutes ago. But there was a change of plans and I had to cancel my trip. I had booked a $6000 business class ticket on Thai Airways through Orbitz so I wanted to be very sure that I got refunded for the fare when I canceled. I placed a call to Orbitz at about 11:45 am this morning, and below was how I spent my afternoon.

11:45 – Place 1st call to Orbitz and run through this annoying automated prompter that loops back to the beginning if I hit zero. I finally get to Customer Support after 5 minutes and tell Customer Support I need to cancel the ticket. They put me on hold for about a minute, and then tell me they can’t cancel the ticket. I have to call Thai Airways directly and they give me the number.

12:00 – Call Thai Airways and get an answering machine saying they are closed and won’t be back open till Monday, and to please leave a message. This is where I get a bit confused…because apparently the Thai Airways office at Los Angeles International Airport is closed on the weekend.

12:10 – Call back Orbitz and again have to go through the annoying automated prompts. I get a real person and tell him my situation. He puts me on hold for about 10 minutes (this is my guess because I got to hear the full version of Pachelbel’s Canon just over two times) and tells me that there is nothing he can do and I need to call Thai Airways. I ask him if he is sure and tell him there is no answer, so he gives me the number to the Thai Airways New York office because they should be open.

12:30 – Call the Premier Executive number for United and ask them if they can cancel the trip since the first flight is on United. They say they can cancel the Santa Barbara to Los Angeles leg, but that is all. I ask them to do that, and say thanks.

12:40 – Call Thai Airways New York number and get the same answering machine.

12:45 – Go the Thai Airways website and spend 10 minutes trying to find a number to call that I don’t already have. Google eventually helps me get to the London and Bangkok office phone numbers.

1:00 – Call the London office for Thai Airways and get the same voice mail message.

1:05 – Call the Bangkok office which is HQ for Thai Airways. Again I’m into an automated voice system that is hard to understand because of the thick accent. I try to guess on the right number to press so they speak English and guess wrong so I have to hang up because they are not speaking English.

1:10 – Call the Bangkok number back and this time understand the prompts so I get to the English reservations system. The automated response says there is a very high call volume so I will have to hold. It then tells me that I can fax in my request and they will get back to me. I sit on hold for a full hour and no one ever picks up.

2:20 – Call back the Los Angeles, New York, and London office again to see if I can get through. Get voice message at all three numbers.

2:40 – I call Orbitz back a bit miffed at this point. Go through the same annoying prompts and get to another new customer support person. I tell him my situation. He pulls up my ticket and then proceeds to go through every leg of my itinerary with flight number, departure city and time, arrival city and time, asking for verification. After this he tells me because it’s an international ticket he has to transfer me to an international agent. I’m thinking why did the first two guys not do that?

2:50 – Get transferred to an International agent (Henry) and I go through my situation for the fourth time. Henry puts me on hold for about 15 minutes and comes back on the phone and tells me that I need to call Thai Airways. I’m a pretty patient person, but at this point I lose it and rant for three minutes on how poor the customer support is. He says sorry and puts me on hold for another 15 minutes to see what he can do. He comes back on and asks me if I purchased a fully refundable fair. I ask him if he is serious, and how can he not know that by looking at his computer. He says he doesn’t, and I don’t know either because it’s not on my confirmation email. He puts me on hold for another 10 minutes and then comes back on the phone saying I bought a fully refundable fair and he can refund the ticket. I say “GREAT” and can he send me an email confirming that it has been refunded…and he says “NO” (I’m thinking WHAT?) but is willing to give me his name and reference number. I say no, I want a confirmation email from Orbitz saying that they are going to cancel and refund my ticket. He says he can’t do that. I ask why, and he says it’s not possible. Then he tells me I need to call the insurance company that Orbitz uses to insure international tickets to get a refund for that portion of the ticket. I don’t even ask why Orbitz doesn’t handle that at this point, and write down the number. Then he tells me that I’ll be receiving a confirmation email of the cancellation (Did I just get told this was not possible?).

3:20 – I hang up the phone irritated and with a headache, check my email, and see that Orbitz sent me a Customer Service Survey at12:45 pm. I have not filled it out yet because I don’t want to waste any more time on this today. I fill out most of these surveys whether good or bad, but I definitely will fill out this one.

It took me over three hours to cancel an airline ticket because of lazy customer support. I’m guessing that if the first person would have just followed procedures and took initiative I would have been done in about an hour.

August 22, 2007

The Customer Equality Paradox

This is an interactive post, and I’m curious to know what everyone thinks.

Twice in the past two weeks customer equality has crossed my path. The first time was about two weeks ago when a colleague said to me, “The [Customer 1] and [Customer 2] seem to be your highest priority and everyone is mine.” The comment was made with the utmost sincerity, honesty, passion and true belief which I really respected. But my first thought was is this really realistic? Is it a smart business decisions to give all customers the same importance?

The second instance was just a couple days ago. I was flying from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and showed up to the gate well after the first boarding announcement was made. I always fly United and recently they implemented a Red Carpet boarding line where regardless of when you show up they will completely stop the other line and let you board if you qualify for the Red Carpet line. For this flight I could not use the Red Carpet line, but I’ve often thought is it fair that someone gets to stop the entire line after showing up late to board? Is it a good business decision to treat two customers differently when they paid the same amount for a service?

Both of these instances speak to the Customer Equality Paradox: are all customers equal. It is important to note here that I’m not asking are all customers important, because that’s an easy answer. Rather, are all customers of equal importance to your business?

Complete the survey below and I’ll let everyone know what the outcome is. I’m interested to hear everyone’s comments about The Customer Equality Paradox.

What is your thought on Customer Equality?
All customers are equally important
Some customers are more important than others
Customers are not important
I'm really what is important
Free polls from
If you showed up late to boarding your plane and could cut in line by using the Red Carpet line would you?
Yes, because I've earned it
Yes, because I've paid for it
Yes, because I'm important
No, I should have been there on time
No, I think it's rude
No, I'd feel bad
Free polls from

August 20, 2007

Secrets of Success

Last night I loaded a few TEDtalks onto my iPod for my morning travel to Las Vegas. I came across a great one entitled Secrets of Success in 8 Words by Richard St. John. It’s only three minutes long so you should listen to it, but if you don’t have time for that here are the 8 points.

  1. Passion - Do it for love, NOT for money. Guy Kawasaki phrases this as do something where you “make meaning”
  2. Hard Work - Success is hard work, nothing comes easy. But it needs to be fun or it probably is not worth doing
  3. Practice Practice Practice - Practice enough to be great at it
  4. Focus - Focus on one thing and do it great
  5. Push Yourself - Push past self doubt, obstacles, and negative people
  6. Serve - Serve others and make the service valuable
  7. Have Ideas - Spend time thinking and come up with new ideas
  8. Persist - Failure happens, persist in the face of failure

Transition Day

It’s a big day today. Sorry the video is so dark, but what should I expect when I wake up at 4:30 am. Not even the sun is awake.

August 17, 2007

Time Lapse Photography Is Awesome!

A while back I posted a video of ash falling on our front yard from the Zaca Fire. Well, it's still burning and still dropping ash on Santa Barbara.

Here is a link to a video from the police department on 8/14 at 1:00 pm that shows the mushroom cloud grow over a period of one hour.

August 16, 2007

Another Reason to Be Nice

My current read is Why Smart Executives Fail, by Sydney Finkelstein. I’m about half way through the book and read a small section that reminded me of a time in my career when nice would have been better. The title of the section was

Arrogance + Hatred + Disrespect for Your Competitor = Disaster.

The main point of the section was how this philosophy can lead to blindness for partner opportunities, but is it also a meaningful topic of where your companies focus should be. At a point in my career my company had a new CEO (an extremely successful one) that brought a new mantra into our company that made it into the Top 5 company goals: "Kill (Competitor Name)". It seemed the goal was to create a hatred for our competitor so strong that we would rally around the cause to crush them what ever it took…though it didn’t have this affect.

(What are the first organizations you think of that rallied around hatred of anything? All the ones I think of do not come with a very good connotation.)

Our competitor made roughly 10 times our revenue, and though there were many things about the competitor I did not like they were the obvious leader in revenue and market share. All of us felt our product was better and that we provided a better level of service, but I slowly began to see a shift in focus for my company. Rather than our focus remaining on building better products and providing the BEST level of service to our customers, we slowly begin to shift our focus to kill the competitor.

The longer this goal existed the worse place to work our office became. Our long time customers began saying doing business with us was like doing business with our competitor: we were arrogant, didn’t listen to our customers, and made promises we could not live up to. We also began to lose key employees that felt working for us was in some ways sacrificing their professional integrity. Company culture shifted from “help each other and our customers be successful” to “don’t screw up or you’re fired.”

Eventually the CEO left and a new CEO with a more “lovecat” philosophy took over and attempted to right the ship, but much of the damage was done. I stayed on and worked with my former and new colleagues to climb back to a place where we were known for great product and great service, but it was a tough uphill climb. The company is still recovering in many ways from the "kill" mantra.

The point of this ramble is company focus should be on building great product and providing the BEST service to the industry. You should remain focused on competitors in the market place, but do not make it a rallying cry. Rallying a company around the mantra “Kill Competitor” is difficult. As a manager what are you going to tell your employees to do to kill the competitor? (Outside of literally...) It is much easier to rally a company around “Build Great Product & Provide the BEST Service”.

Do not love or hate your competitor, but rather respect their position in the market place. If you are going to love something, love building great product and providing great service. It is a way better thing to love.

August 15, 2007

Don't Miss the Runway

Yesterday I traveled to a client location in Loleta, CA...which is almost in the middle of nowhere. To get there I had to first fly from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and then Arcata, CA. The airline announced when we got on the plane in San Francisco there was a thick fog cover over the airport in Arcata and we may have to land in Redding or San Francisco if the fog remained.

Well, we got over the airport and there was still a really thick layer of fog, but we had this awesome pilot that went for it anyway. We entered the fog and I was scrambling to get out my camera and grab a quick video because I couldn't even see to the end of the airplane wing, but was too slow.

It was crazy because we were in the fog for about two minutes, and then "poof" there was the runway about 10 feet below us when we cleared the fog. By the time I got my camera going we had already landed, but you can see how low the visibility was.

Picture taken with my Cingular 8525

After landing we all gave the pilot a cheering ovation!

August 13, 2007

Vegas Baby!

I was out of town for a couple of days and wasn’t able to blog. I actually missed doing it because I’m beginning to find it fun. I really need to get on being able to blog from my phone. I’ve got things all setup, just haven’t done it.

I spent Thursday through Saturday in Las Vegas, both for work and for a bachelor party. My buddy Ryan is getting married in a couple of months, so he decided to have a get together with friends for the weekend. It’s funny when I tell people I went to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, it automatically comes with all these assumptions. But we are really a pretty tame bunch so the weekend consisted of poker, blackjack, a round of golf (when it was 110 degrees!), and eating.

We also did a bit of beer drinking as well, but nothing excessive. We stayed at Monte Carlo and ate every meal at Monte Carlo Brew Pub because they had good food and awesome beer pitchers…it’s a huge tap!

I also played real poker for the first time…meaning with real money. I have played poker, but only goofing around with chips and friends…no money. I played “two-four” hold ‘em because I’m way too cheap to play “no limit”. I ended up winning about $25 on the first day and losing about $25 on the second, so I felt pretty good about things. I can’t say the same for my luck with blackjack…

We gave Ryan this crazy shirt that listed a bunch of things he had to do…but I had to leave before he could do them…bummer!

August 8, 2007

My Office Today

I spent today writing performance reviews, which is probably the thing I like the very least about management. Every year for review writing I go to Coffee Cat because I can focus without interruption, drink good coffee, have a yummy crepe lunch, and think about things.

Picture taken with my Cingular 8525.

I also got about 95% of the transition plan in place for my successor at Agilysys, which felt really good!

Why We Call Them Third World Countries

Two weeks ago I did a post about having a realistic world view. Yesterday I was talking with my wife about the book (The End of Poverty) and how eye opening it was to learn that 2.5 billion people in third world countries live on under $2 per day. My thoughts drifted to how easy Americans will spend someone’s entire yearly income on a new flat screen television, laptop, or even a watch. To us these are necessities for living in the world, where to others it would be enough money to feed and clothe their entire family for literally years.

In the midst of the conversation my wife asked why they were called third world countries. This was a question I had asked before reading the book, and before reading it probably would have made up some answer about the national GDP of the country or some decent sounding answer regarding economics. But the real answer was quite eye opening as was not grounded in economics but rather politics.

In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs outlines for us exactly why we call them 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world countries. Below is a summary of his description, but I recommend reading the entire book to get a full understanding of these descriptions.

First World
The rich world, called the first world, succeeded in reconstructing a market-based trading system between the end of WWII in 1945 and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Countries established currency conversion factors and reduce trade barriers. With it came a burst of rapid economic growth, a powerful recovery after decades of war, blocked trade, and financial instability. First world countries generally adopted a capitalist economic structure.

Second World
The second world is the socialist world, the world first forged by Lenin and Stalin in the wake of WWI. This world remained cutoff from the first world until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The characteristics of the second world were state ownership of production, one party rule under communism, and economic integration through barter trade.

Third World
We generally define this as a poor country, but the third world included the rapidly rising number of postcolonial counties after WWII that chose neither to be part of the capitalist first world or socialist second world. They were the “third-way” countries with the philosophy that they would develop on their own without the assistance of international trade.

Jeffrey Sachs goes into great deal on the reasoning why second and third world counties did not achieve the economic success of first world countries, which I will let you discover by reading the book.

August 6, 2007

Useless Knowledge #1 (one of my favorites)

*I changed this post to Useless Knowledge #1, as it's not really random but more useless.*

Quote: "If my aunt were configured differently she'd be my uncle."

Opportunity for use: Generally in response to a comment like, "If it worked that way it would be better." Works better if the person making the comment doesn't understand what they are talking about, or they are making an excuse for doing it wrong the first time. Highly applicable to the technology sector.

Meaning: If I made it to do something other than it was designed to do, it would be different than what I designed.

I was in a management meeting when this was used by our somewhat new CEO in response to someone telling him that if we setup a new system "this way" it would be better. I still think it's one of the best responses to "if this than better" comments.

August 5, 2007

Just Be Honest

Lately I've been reflecting on why I've been successful in my career so far. I think it's important to look back and review successes and failures when planning for how to be successful in the future. I also think that it's hard to be realistic with yourself because you may want it to be for reasons that it wasn't or isn't (like you are really smart instead of just really lucky).

After sending the message to my friends and family announcing that I was going out on my own I got some of the most encouraging responses. Every response was encouraging, even if it was advice on my logo or business name. But what struck me were the comments on why people said they knew I would be successful. The thing that stuck out the most was that they said I was honest.

Over my career of 9 (short) years I've made it a point to be honest with customers and co-workers, always. That means when I've screwed up or when it is really bad news for a customer, so be it. Bad news is often hard to deliver and hard to hear, but in my experience every customer was appreciative of the honesty. Sometimes it meant I lost a customer or had a really unhappy customer, but it also meant that person new I would be honest with them the next time. In a world where lies are abundant and facades seem to be the norm honesty is refreshing. And like any refreshing drink you want more of it.

A prospective client that decides on a separate contractor because you are honest about not being able to meet a requirement will come back again for a bid the next time...because you were honest.
Just be honest. Even if you lose a customer, you won't lose your integrity...and nothing is worse to lose.

August 3, 2007

Ash Friday

While at work today I looked out my window and thought, "Funny, it looks like its snowing." The Zaca Fire just north of Santa Barbara is causing ash to rain down all over the city. Check out the video from our front yard!

Don't Go It Alone

Over the past few years I’ve watched colleagues take the plunge to become consultants, and I’m always surprised how many of them want to go it alone. Two of the biggest challenges when starting a new business (specifically consulting) are...

  • All your success stories have an asterisk that you did it under the company you used to work for.

  • You don’t have the best kind of marketing, which is a direct reference from a personal contact that has experienced your company.
In Tim Sanders’ book Love Is the Killer App he says, “Your network is your networth.” Your ability to generate revenue is directly correlated to the amount of people that are willing to recommend you, assuming they even know what you do. Using your network to create business is something that too few people do. My dad (a long time entrepenuer) always told me, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

I’ve spent almost every evening of the past week sending out introduction letters to prospective clients, and I’m pretty confident that some business will be generated from that work. But I know that a direct reference from a personal contact will generate more opportunities than I ever can. I say personal versus professional because a professional reference is from someone that doesn’t know you. They know what you do and so they reference you, but they don’t encourage someone to hire you. Personal references enjoy referencing you and passionately encourage someone to hire you.

I sent out the first ping to my personal network-of-success. I’ll keep you updated on what generates more business: the letter to my network or introduction letters to prospective clients. I'm betting on my network.
Letter to my personal network of success.

Yogi Berra once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

It seems almost a dozen times in the past three years my professional life has been at a fork in the road and each time I’ve taken the “safe road”. Three weeks ago I reached another fork in the road.

Just over a month ago InfoGenesis was purchased by Agilysys Inc., the largest hospitality technology company in the world. As many of you know, about four months ago I accepted the role of Director of Professional Services for InfoGenesis, helping recover a department that had gotten somewhat off course. Three weeks ago the new company ownership asked me to move to Las Vegas to manage the professional services group, as that is the new primary services office. Chrystal and I love Santa Barbara and are not yet ready to leave, so I declined the offer. Upon declining the request to relocate the joint decision was made that they would be hiring someone for my position in Las Vegas. Though this sounds like an unfortunate incident I am viewing it as an opportunity.

The new ownership had expressed the sincere desire to keep me on board at the company, and requested I think about what job I would like. It was wonderful to have the blessing of being able to choose what job I really wanted, and even create one if I could justify the value. After much reflection, discussions with Chrystal, wise counsel from my dad and prayer I have made the decision that this time the job I really want is Owner and Principal Consultant for Kevin Sturm Consulting.

At what will be one month short of nine years, my last day with InfoGenesis will be Friday, October 5. I have spent many evenings over the past few weeks working on starting Kevin Sturm Consulting, and will spend many more in the coming weeks. Most of that time has been spent networking with contacts and getting a foundation to start a client base. At this point I would say I have the ground work in place, but I still need to finish my website and a few administrative tasks associated with starting a business. The next step is to land a customer and my first of what I hope will be many consulting jobs.

My biggest challenge in this role will be establishing my own reputation in the industry. For nine years I have been backed by a big well established company. As a private consultant I now have to make a name for myself, but the recommendation from a trusted contact will always be a vital part of my business. All of you know me personally, professionally or both and I hope can be part of my extended network-of-success. I will be providing a few different services, but will specialize in system evaluation and selection for hospitality venues and use case and requirements gathering for hospitality vendors. If you know of any hotels, restaurants, resorts, golf courses, stadiums, corporate cafeterias, or any hospitality related venue that is opening or planning on replacing their technology system(s) and feel confident in referencing my services please do.

As I embark on this new journey I covet your prayers, words of wisdom, criticism and help. Thank you all for your friendship and support. I am hoping that this will be first installment of a regular newsletter, and that with each new installment I will have stories of success and learning experiences to report. If you’re a blog reader you can catch regular updates of how things are going on my blog.



August 1, 2007

Random Knowledge #1

Quote: "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Meaning: Don't throw the good stuff out with the bad stuff (more or less)

I always love to know where weird sayings like this come from. Well this one I've known for a while but I figured it would be random knowledge thing #1.

Back in the early settlement days of living without the convenience of running water and grand sewage systems, bathing was a planned event. Upon fetching the water from the local crick or well it was then heated by kettle or bucket and dumped into a big tub. Think Bonanza or Little House on the Prairie style.
Once the bath was ready to go, the ordering of bathing was pa, ma, and then kids oldest to youngest. Pa was covered with dirt from working the land all day, and ma was often not much cleaner. Kids are always covered in dirt, so by the time that the baby got a bath the water was already so cloudy you couldn't see into the dirty water. So when the water was thrown out there could have been a baby in it...which is weirder than the phrase.

But, that's where the phrase Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." came from.