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What's your gold thread?

Saturday, May 20, 2017


This week I received an update phone call from the Director of IBEC, Robert Bush. Among the various topics, he made reference to a conversation he had with a "friendly competitor". I knew the individual and considered him certainly friendly, but I had not given the notion of competition much thought. As I reflected on the nuances of competition I ran across this LinkedIn Influencer article by Katya Andresen entitled, The Best Way to Compete Is Looking Beyond the Competition. (Published April 9, 2017).

This is a great reminder that it is not about us and it is not about the competition - it is about the customer! "Discover what is missing in the world" she says. In short:
  1. Know your strength.
  2. Be different in a way that matters to the customer.
  3. Make your differentiation clear.
She writes:

"I wrote a book on marketing a few years back, and it included a section on competition. In that chapter, I told the story of Gold Toe socks. As the name would suggest, those are the pairs with the distinctive gold thread at the toe. The reason for that signature look is a great lesson in how to think about competition.

"The company gained its toehold in the sock market during the depression, when it began weaving strong Irish linen into the tips of its socks so they would last longer during hard times. In the 1930s, a department-store buyer told one of the company's founders that the durable toes were great, but customers couldn't tell which brand had them. In a stroke of genius, the company decided to wrap gold acetate thread around the linen so its strong toe—now a Gold Toe—would be immediately visible to consumers. The company made its competitive advantage recognizable and unmistakable. That decision has helped make Gold Toe Brands a top sock manufacturer for decades.

"This is a rich illustration of how to think about competition. First, we have to know our strength. Second, we have to be different in some important way that matters to the market. And then we need to make the differentiation as clear as if were adorned in gold thread.

"Notice that in this story, Gold Toe didn't obsess about how to be as good as others. They spent a lot more time thinking about how to stand out in both form and substance.

"Maybe this sounds like obvious business strategy. Yet when it comes to competition, it's easy to forget. We sometimes start studying our competition as if it offers the roadmap to where we need to be instead of realizing it represents a path already taken. The more we worry about keeping up, the more we fall behind the more important race to define our unique gifts and put them to work on a problem that needs solving in our own special way.

"I think the pitfalls of competition extend not just to business strategy but also to professional identity. Whether defining a product strategy or distinguishing ourselves in a job market, we can waste time worrying about being as good as everyone else. But competitive strategy should focus on who we're trying to benefit while taking into account the competition, not the other way around. We don't win solely by reacting to our competitors but rather outperforming them in meeting our audience's needs and wants.

"Let me put it more spiritually: We win by being the best version of ourselves in order to uniquely matter to someone else.

"We can't achieve that aim if we're endlessly keeping score in relationship to the others who seek to matter. If there's a full accounting to be done, it should be within ourselves. And we have to be unafraid to find what is wonderfully different and put it out there, on full display, gold thread or not. That can feel uncomfortably daring. And if it does, we are probably on the right track.

"If you are struggling to compete, don't look to what others have done. Discover what is missing in the world or incomplete within yourself and apply all your energy to the worthy endeavor of filling that unclaimed space better than anyone else ever could. Find your difference, and you will make a difference."

God put unique qualities in each of us and asks us to use them for His purposes and for His glory. In your life, in your business, what need is He asking you to fill? What unique gifts, talents, position, and authority has He give you to fulfill that? What are you doing to share with the world? What is your gold thread?

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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BAM startup wisdom: go with a guide

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Because of my penchant for hiking I was intrigued to read recently about the hiking couple who spent 47 days stranded in a canyon in the Himalayas. The 20-year old Taiwanese man was rescued, surviving on salt and water after his food ran out 5 weeks earlier; he had lost 66 pounds. However, his unfortunate friend died three days before the rescue.

Apparently when they realized they were lost they followed a water source downhill looking for a village but became trapped at the top of a waterfall and found they were unable to hike back uphill again due to steep cliffs all around. All of this took place in a time of heavy snowfall. They had been hiking above the 9,000 foot level without a guide.1

It is estimated that about 30% of the 100,000 Nepal trekkers each year travel without guides. There are casualties every year and efforts are being made to make it illegal to travel without guides.

I clicked on this story while watching some of the NHL playoffs. I love it when the TV camera zooms in on the coaches and remind us of their successes, challenges and risks. No team is without a coach.

This week I took one of my granddaughters first to her swimming lesson and then to her piano lesson. In both classes skilled teachers and coaches patiently help Mia to mature in swimming and at the piano. Neither she, nor any of the other students, would go very far without a coach.

A guide as life insurance

I got to thinking, why would business startups try to grow their business without a coach; or without consultants? Maybe it is the same reason why people take high risks trying to hike high in the Himalayas without a guide.

After the article about the Taiwanese trekker, a comment read: Experience in such trekking conditions is a must & a guide is your "life insurance." Imagine the hassle, cost & worries to the authorities, family & key stakeholders. Another with less diplomacy stated, So unfortunate and so stupid. Going without a guide on unfamiliar ground. Neglecting the Golden Rules and forgetting "Into The Wild".

A guide as “life insurance” – an interesting way to look at it! This week I read a statistic which stated that 90% of Kingdom (Business as Mission / BAM) freedom businesses do not survive. I wonder if it is really that high, but whatever it is, it is too high. Much can be gained if business owners would humble themselves and link up with coaches, Subject Matter Experts and consultants to guide them through the milieu of starting and growing a business (hard enough in itself) in a foreign culture.


“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

1. Read more at Tributes for Taiwanese trekker lost in Nepal tragedy, ChannelNews Asia. April 27, 2017.


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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5 positive things about being 2nd in command

Saturday, May 06, 2017


Business as Mission (BAM) narratives oftentimes focus on the founder or the entrepreneur credited with the initial startup leadership; and rightly so; but sometimes the real reason for success may rest with the #2 or #3 person. Sometimes key success factors can be traced to the “second in command”.

Since graduating with a business degree in 1968, I have had more than one opportunity to lead an organization both in Brazil and in Pennsylvania, but most of my life in management has been as the #2 guy – in Alaska managing a fish plant; in Brazil; and as VP of operations and business partnerships for Crossworld for 19 years. What is positive about being second in command?

1. Flexibility in use of abilities.

My years as the second guy gave me an opportunity to maximize my skills, giftedness and interests. Oftentimes the CEO is required to do things because of his/her position which are not aligned with skills and interests. I observed my bosses consumed with fund raising, capital development, spontaneous thinking, or public speaking, all of which were not appealing to me. The scriptures are clear that God creates all people differently and when it comes to a Kingdom business, employees contribute best when in positions that maximize their God-given wiring and experiences.1

2. Influence on specialized audiences.

Mike Baer in his book 2IC: Business as Mission for the Rest of Us, uses the Biblical characters of Daniel and Joseph to demonstrate that what they accomplished relative to God’s purposes and influencing people was highly correlated with their positions as the number two guy. I was very grateful for the opportunities to influence individual employees while managing a fish processing plant because I wasn’t on the phone all day or up in the office; similarly while supervising a home mission office I was able to develop people, solve problems and make strategic plans – something that was less true for my boss, the CEO.

3. Identification with regular employees.

While it is true that those who are second in command do have influence and authority, there is a certain advantage with not being the top dog. People tend to look at you also as having a boss and can identify with you and that gives you respect and identity with many. In more than one situation, I found it acceptable to participate in “community work day” with everyone else, while it was less likely that the President, my boss, could get so involved with mundane tasks. Such activities endeared me to the employees.

4. Time to think and plan.

“In Consiglieri (an Italian word for adviser or counselor that dates back to the Middle Ages but was made famous by The Godfather), Richard Hytner writes about two types of what he calls “C” executives: Those who have taken advantage of the No. 2 role to prepare themselves for the top job—think Tim Cook, who was Steve Jobs’ longtime deputy at Apple before becoming CEO—and those who value the position for its own sake. For one thing, he likes “having the time to think through a problem deeply, which most CEOs do not have,” he says. “If you are curious and contemplative by nature, and enjoy influencing strategy and events from behind the scenes, then there really is no better job.”2

Second in command people often have different motivations than A leaders. They often crave time and space to think, opportunity to create and shape practical outcomes, and the satisfaction of directly helping others. I well remember receiving Sunday phone calls from our president with his latest “wild idea” asking me if we could do it and could I prepare a draft plan for early in the week. When the CEO is open to reason and discussion, such scenarios are often a welcome challenge to the number two person.

5. Opportunity to be mentored for the CEO job.

I well remember being appointed as president of a group in Brazil after being a vice president, and being mentored by my predecessor. He continually assured me that I could do it even though ten years earlier he was clear that I couldn’t. His faith in me at the right time was a real confidence builder.

A recent study of top positions in US corporations indicated that 60% of those second in command did not aspire to the top job. However, in the world of the startup and especially Business as Mission initiatives, there is high probability that the entrepreneur or founding owner may not survive until profitability. Thus, he or she must be on the lookout for number 2 or 3 individuals as part of succession planning. In small startup companies, a person with aspirations and competency for the CEO role may have a shorter pathway to the top role than in big corporations. Taking the number two position, when determined to learn and grow, can be a great positive factor.


2. Fisher, Anne. Fortune, July 3, 2014.The subtle advantages of being No. 2


Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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