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“Let freedom ring” for victims on this Independence Day

Saturday, June 30, 2018
American Flag & Firework Sparkler
I recently received a memo from a former employee who married and went with her husband to Asia to start a business in the red-light district of a major city. The value proposition was to provide baked goods and gourmet coffee to the international market by training and hiring employees coming out of the trafficking and prostitution industries.

The start-up business has become successful and they are now opening a second café in another area of the city and hiring seven more former sex victims. Their total number of employees will now total forty. We call businesses like this freedom businesses because they bring freedom to those trapped in modern slavery which is propelled by organized criminal activity. This dehumanization of up to 40 million slaves worldwide today includes the trafficking of boys and girls for purposes of exploitation, sex slavery, family abuse of women and children, and labor exploitation. It exists in every major city in North America and the world.

While listening to a short YouTube video of my friend describing the expansion efforts, a pop up on the sidebar showed country star Martina McBride singing her hit song, Independence Day. As 1995 CMA Song of the Year with over half a million in CD sales and millions of YouTube viewers, it is a catchy song often played around Independence Day. Yes, the context of the story happens on Independence Day, but the song writer’s intent was to highlight the issue of wife and child abuse, and the need to be “free” from such bondage.

The goal, suggests the song, is to “…let freedom ring” and “…let the weak be strong…” McBride is doing her part to bring awareness to the colossal problem of victimization of the weak of this world. There is an economic supply and demand side to the issue. The demand size reflects the evil-driven desire for exploitation, or for sex, or easy money. On the supply side is poverty, unemployment, disempowerment and even starvation. Desperate lives many times take desperate steps to survive.

As pointed out in blogs on this site in the month of May, there is a place for those who are rescuing and restoring those enslaved or trafficked, but the only real way to break the systemic cycle is “for profit businesses” which provide an alternative solution. We can do something about the supply side. We can “let the weak be strong” with job creation and thus let freedom ring.

Second in the 3-part Freedom business series: Note the diagram at the end and envision your place.

On this Independence Day, let’s give our thoughts, prayers, and expertise to solutions which help freedom businesses. You can be a part of capitalizing such businesses, providing expertise through consulting and coaching, and we can educate ourselves today. Dare to get involved! Take a step to “let freedom ring” for someone enslaved today.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Business As Mission metrics in Togo, West Africa

Friday, June 22, 2018
red peppers growing in field
As I sat down at my computer to write a blog about Business As Mission metrics using some grids from my university class on business startups, I opened a letter from a friend living in Togo, West Africa. It was passed on to me by IBEC consultant Rick Buddemeier. I realized that here was a story demonstrating the theory of my textbook. Why write about theory when there is a real-life, right-now narrative?

For an entrepreneur, startup metrics are very different than those for an established company. Rather than measuring against a business plan, startup owners are looking for feedback on whether their business model is working. A lean startup business model canvas is a simple blueprint which points to a customer, and includes data reflecting a clear understanding of the problem to be solved, proof of concept, customer validation, unique value proposition, risk analysis and the like. Sooner or later typical metrics of a scaling businesses emerge.

On the missional half of the business are metrics such as significant spiritual conversations, time getting to know and love people, numbers studying the scriptures, committed followers of Jesus, and group meetings for fellowship, study and teaching.

Levi graduated from the Missionary Training Institute of Togo last year and moved to a region where relocated families had recently settled. Most everyone is Muslim, unreached with the Gospel, and very poor. But Levi is not a typical “missionary” in west Africa. He is a pepper farmer who brought pepper to the region and is expanding his enterprise to cultivate more land and hire more employees. He supports his family and the worker families.

People see that Levi cares about them and their success. He now develops quality seed which he sells to the new farmers and he serves as a consultant for them. He has won the respect of the people in Mango as he has regular contact with the them on a day-to-day basis. There is no secular-sacred dichotomy for Levi as he lives out his Christian values in a holistic manner in the marketplace. He not only shares verbally who Jesus is, but he lives who Jesus is.

Work is ministry for Levi. “This is in fact a typical example of how we want our African Christians to use their work as ministry, a means of financial support and also a way to meet the needs of the community they serve. When needs are met, hearts will be opened and disciples made. They should be trained to use their work on the field to reach the unreached people. With the gospel in one hand and their work in another, they are able to come in contact with their communities especially in Muslim areas” says my friend Kawashi in an open letter.

Metrics for business? Yes – paying customers for the pepper, scale allowing for more fields and employees, increased profits and market share, etc.

Metrics for mission? Yes – significant conversations on a regular basis; Muslim friends who appreciate him, young people who are studying the Bible, and a church of 20 adults plus children.

Business As Mission (BAM) is real business (profit, job creation) and real mission (making followers of Jesus and stewarding God’s creation). Levi is doing just that in Togo. BAM can be done anywhere in the world, and IBEC’s vision is to help those who are committed to seeing it happen.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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The most successful sports business start-up of all time – 4 reasons why

Friday, June 15, 2018
ice hockey teams around goal

A start-up is a fledgling business enterprise. The American Heritage Dictionary suggests it is “a business or undertaking that has recently begun operation.” A start-up is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed,” says Neil Blumenthal, cofounder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. 

IBEC has been working with start-up companies since its beginning in 2006 and so all of us are keenly interested in what makes for success in a business start-up. But it is not common at all that a sports franchise is among successful start-ups, especially one that becomes successful very quickly.

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the premier ice hockey league in North America and the grand finale of each season is the awarding of the Stanley Cup, named from Canada’s Lord Stanley in 1892. It is the oldest existing championship trophy of any pro franchise. This year, the Eastern Champion Washington Capitals played an unlikely opponent, the Western Champion, Vegas Golden Knights. 

But the Golden Knights are a start-up; an expansion team which did not exist two years ago. After their inception in June 2016, and one year of preparation they began the hockey season in early October 2017. Everyone including their owners expected it would be 3-5 years before they would be a team to contend with. But by May 2018, they had become the most successful expansion team in the history of sports and were vying for the coveted Stanley Cup.

They had finished the regular season with the fifth best record of the 31 teams in the NHL and had posted a 12-3 record in the post-season before the Stanley Cup finals began on May 28. How can this be?

There are at least four reasons for the success of this team in the desert.

They built a sense of community. The infamous Las Vegas shooting took place six days before their hockey season opened on October 6, and the players immediately identified with the pain of the city. As they reached out helping people, volunteering with civic groups, and honoring survivors at the games, they became a rallying point for the city and a pathway to healing. As the only pro team of the city, and one that wanted to belong to the citizens, they were determined to win big for the people. They became the heroes of Las Vegas.

The story reminds me of BAM kingdom business entrepreneur, Bill Job, who built a successful business in Asia. He once told the city leaders, “I want to help you be successful…I want you to be proud of me and my business.” God honored such a community focus. It was not all about him or one or two people – but about the community and its people.

They coalesced as a team. The players joked among themselves about being misfits. When the NHL approves an expansion team, the new team gets to pick a player from all the other teams, but the other teams can protect 11 players each, which means every player selected was not one of the top eleven protected by their former team. Not a good feeling.

But they decided there was only one way forward, to play as a team and work together for success. With the exception of goal tender, Marc-Andre Fleury, there were no superstars. No player finished this first season as one of the top twenty-point getters in the league, but four players had sixty or more points in a balanced team effort. It was a teamwork in the truest sense.

Start-up experts, Nager, Nelsen and Nouyrigat suggest that what matters most in building a start-up team are complementary skills, clear and aligned interests and energy and enthusiasm.1 BAM teams need to strive toward each of these.

Smart player selections. General Manager George McPhee and owner Bill Foley did an amazing job of seeing what others could not see. They saw potential in thirty “unprotected” guys, some of whom had not been given a chance as yet. Coach Gerard Gallant had been fired a few months earlier by his former NHL team and hidden gems like William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault turned out to be keys to the team’s success.

Every BAM business needs someone with the ability to see potential in others and give them an opportunity. Former Apple VP, Guy Kawasaki, says, “There is one thing a CEO must do, it’s hire a management team that is better than he is. If there is one thing a management team must do, it’s hire employees who are better than it is.” Kawasaki goes on to say this requires at least two things of owners and managers; humility and self-confidence.2

A key leader emerged. Marc-Andre Fleury was a decorated 3-time all-star goalie from the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he helped them to win three Stanley Cups. As an experienced and successful star player he proved to be the leader and a stable foundation for his new team. The “misfits” rallied around him in every game.

Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's such a character guy. He's the first guy to say last night, 'I'm going to be better and I can be better,' but he's been outstanding. We're here because of him, and we know that. We've got a good team, we play a solid game, but Marc-Andre Fleury, he's the backbone of our hockey team.”

Military leader Bernard Montgomery spoke in these terms, “Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose, and the character which inspires confidence.” And in the words of Jesus, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (MK10:43)

Well the Golden Knights did not win the Stanley Cup this year but their story is one of a lesson-filled year. As with the Knights, Kingdom businesses need to serve the community, work as a team, make wise decisions and recognize and promote leaders.

1. Nager, Marc; Nelsen, Clint; Nouyrigat, Frank. Startup Weekend – How to Take a Company from Concept to Creation. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

2. Kawasaki, Guy. The Art of the Start. New York, NY. Penguin Group, 2004.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC re-posts on the top Business As Mission website

Friday, June 08, 2018
dice with the word blog spelled out

I find it curious and interesting to know what others consider to be important. One of the ways I try to understand that curiosity is by considering requests for re-posting items which have originated on the IBEC Blog.

Business As Mission is probably the most read BAM website out there and within the last six months these IBEC blogs have been requested from the IBEC site and subsequently posted there. Perhaps they are worth reading if you missed them the first time. 

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Seven ways to insure your customer feels he is king (or she is queen)

Friday, June 01, 2018
teamwork written on chalkboard

I ran across the old German adage, “The customer is king” while preparing for a university class I teach on innovation and entrepreneurship. While it is true that understanding the customer is much more complex than a generation ago, and the metaphor may be a tired one, it is increasingly accurate today.

Professor Robert C. Wolcott of the Kellogg School at Northwestern University points out that the king customer paradox reminds us that the customer drives the economy with his more and more access to products and choices; while at the same time increasing the competition, and invading our privacy. Consumer-focused companies respond to our desires while “…pursuing deeper insights into our location, preferences, even needs we didn’t know we had.”1 Such is the paradox of king consumer today.

My wife expects an Amazon package the next day after ordering it at bedtime the evening before, but she doesn’t like it that they know where we live, predict her preferences on the site and drool with anticipation as to what she might order. Yes, customer service has changed greatly in recent times, but at the same time it has not changed at all. Customers still want to be cared for.

In the last two months I had to change flights and rental cars more than once due to illness and death in the family. A stark contrast surfaced on one occasion when I needed to change my flight schedule. The phone attendant at the airline was polite and answered immediately; she forgave the $200 change fee due to the death circumstances and she was very helpful in finding me a new flight.

In contrast, a major rental car agency did not respond to the phone in a timely manner, the line dropped two times and when there was a response, the agency gave a very curt reply and there was no possibility of waiving the change fee. And the cost of a new rental increased substantially.

Customer service is still just that – service - and owners and managers of business startups need to begin with principles which will be long lasting as they prosper and scale the business.

1. Provide consistent training on customer service and be sure that everyone in the company, from top to bottom, follows the same guidelines. Make expectations clear.

2. Meet with customers regularly in person or via survey to determine ways to improve. Do the same with employees, asking how they think customers can be better served.

3. Remind yourself and your staff that without customers you have no business. They pay your salary, which makes them king.

4. Use helpful comments with customers, such as “How can I help you?”, “I don’t know but I will find out.” (and actually do it), “I will keep you updated.” “I appreciate your business.”

5. Keep the customer front and center with friendly personal things like sending cards or notes on important occasions, keeping them in the loop on things important to them, always following up on a conversation. Explore ways to be more personal.

6. Listen to customer complaints and listen politely without excuses. Take responsibility and do what you can to resolve the problem quickly. Go the extra mile.

7. Give employees the right to solve problems – like one restaurant which allows the waiters to give a replacement plate if the customer is dissatisfied.2

1. Wolcott, Robert C. The King Customer Paradox: The More Empowered, The More We Lose ControlForbes Magazine, 11 Apr. 2017.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission