Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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Full house for our first ever NYC Enterprise Sales Meetup last night! Thanks for everyone that helped out and that attended. (at Work-Bench)

30 plays
Smashing Pumpkins,
Siamese Dream

Today by Smashing Pumpkins - No story today about the song, just the song and winding down from an awesome day yesterday.  I guess that would be ironic given the dark subject matter of the Corgan’s lyrics, but alas it is one catchy song…

Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist” by Joi Ito

Normally I would not post TED talks, but there was a few points here that I found interesting and relevant to my work at Enhatch.  In a world that is moving much faster, the old organizational model of IT owning technology and business requesting services for technology enablement from IT is becoming archaic.  The ability to seize opportunities and gain competitive advantage are happening in much shorted cycles, faster than IT groups can deliver services.  Partly this is the result of the growing complexity of IT architectures, data, and services with fewer resources to bare.  The other reason though is that many IT organizations operate on a risk model versus an innovation model, so there is a tendency to reject new solutions over existing in-house systems already plugged into standard processes and policies.

What is needed is a new IT architecture and organizational structure that splits the functional from the infrastructure.  This enables IT to focus on securing technology platforms and the data therein while the business has the ability to control and modify the functional layer to enable their business needs.  Technology is no longer only the domain of IT as the spread of mobile devices and cloud services have demonstrated.  In the new era of IT, technology is delivered faster, business can deploy almost instantly, and IT can dedicate their efforts and resources to the fast and reliable delivery of corporate information in the most secure fashion possible.  Instead of the wholesales centralization of systems therefore, functionality and business software exists in a federated model within businesses while data is the currency that is protected and securely delivered by IT.  This is the new business agility which embodies the new reality of “Deploy or Die”.

30 plays
Judas Priest,
British Steel

80’S TUESDAY: Steeler by Judas Priest - There are very few metal albums that are as great as British Steel.  Released in April 1980, it firmly established NWOBHM for the next several years as the dominant metal genre.  Even if you have a Priest album that you prefer more (and I am a big fan of Screaming for Vengeance), it was British Steel that became the iconic heavy metal album with tunes such as Breaking the Law and Living After Midnight.

One of the lesser played songs is Steeler, the last track on the album.  But as a testimony of the strength of the album, even tunes like Steeler were great.  Let me repeat, not just good, but great.  It has that punk flavor that runs through much of the album, but with an awesome catchy yet simple riff and some nice guitar solos.  Then is just end with more riffage and some guitar noodling for a entire minute until closing it out.  Simply put, this is a awesome tune to get the day started with.

While APIs are growing in popularity, and more and more companies are launching their own public APIs, it is increasingly clear that public APIs aren’t a good fit for every company. In some cases, companies can only determine that a public API isn’t a viable proposition by launching one and seeing how the market reacts and its needs evolve. In other cases, however, the desirability and viability of a public API is questionable from the outset.

ESPN Decides to Shutdown Its Public API via ProgrammableWeb

Not much of a surprise, but disappointing nonetheless.  The challenge of supporting a public API is that many companies fail to truly buy into the long-term benefits of openness.  The value of the API has little to do with immediate returns, but as a driver for innovation that is outside of the organization.  In many ways, this is analogous to setting up corporate innovation centers and entrepreneur-in-residence programs, but completely outside of a companies direct control.  But such programs require investment and patience to evolve to the point where it generates potentially valuable innovations and new solutions.  I suspect that is the case with the ESPN API, a grand idea without a well thought out program to evangelize or to give it the full support it needed to thrive as an innovation community.


Reality is, at the seed stage, most rocketships look more like the cardboard variety you’d make as a kid than something NASA developed. Pour rocketfuel into your cardboard creation and you’re more likely to see it go up in flames than into orbit.

I fear that, in this market, people are pouring rocketfuel into cardboard cutouts and no one is telling them.I strongly believe living through “unfundable” periods is important for long term success. Consider it a badge of honor that most people think your idea won’t work. I’m certain that if you look at every single one of the entrepreneurs who’ve gone on to build big, enduring businesses they were unfundable once too.

Pulled this up over the weekend from the archives.  When I see the types of startups getting funding and the amounts they are getting funded for, I think we are headed for a lot of mid-air explosions.  Most will not even get off the launch pad before blowing up.  It will not harm our frothy startup funding environment though because global currents are driving more and more money into the high risk venture cauldron.

But my interest in this blurb is not with other startups and their journeys.  It is with the fact that most great companies never got much attention in their early days.  They were often dismissed as unfundable.  But they persevered and went onto great success despite being kind of a mess early on.  Those things take time and patience to sort through and everyone goes through those pains, even for those entrepreneurs that have been around the block a few times.  When you think things are spinning out of control, are going too slow, that things appear aimless, or are really sloppy, you are probably right.  But realize that every startup is like that and it is just the growing pains one goes through every time you are starting from scratch.

38 plays
Wolverine Blues

METAL MONDAY: Eyemaster by Entombed - So Entombed released an album year and it was pretty good despite the band going through some legal issues between the only two remaining bandmates from their classic era.  That era I speak of is the first golden age of death metal in the early 90’s when bands like Carcass and Morbid Angel and Cynic and of course Entombed were crafting the sound and the genre.  But Entombed (previously Nihilist) really put Sweden on the map for extreme metal.

Alas, all was not well by Entombed’s third album Wolverine Blues.  Fans nearly rioted upon its release, confused that it did not sound like the previous two albums.  The band dared to write hooks and melodies and create actually intelligible songs!  Well, over time fans got over it and most people recognize how much of a classic this album really is.  The opening track says it all as Eyemaster brings extreme mayhem and sound, but in a way that is pretty accessible by today’s standards.

I’m not really sure the CIO can be a new-business or revenue generator," he says. "IT is a steward of data - integrates, stores, manages security. But who actually uses the data and can make strategic decisions? The business.

CIOs Consider Putting a Price Tag on Data via CIO

It is not the systems that are as important, but the data.  As more functional business application and process engines migrate out to the business units, CIO’s will take on more responsible for ensuring infrastructure.  Key to that is guarding over the data, especially as that data becomes increasing more important and strategic for enterprises.

I was planning on writing something that helped break out the differences between the elevator pitch, the unique selling propositions (USP’s) and value propositions.  Then I came across the exact same post written last year by sales guru Jill Konrath, which is pretty solid, so I am reposting here in its entirety down below.

One key point here is the difference between a USP and a Value Prop, which most times confuses folks.  When you are selling B2B enterprise solutions, USP’s are the equivalent of check box items in an product evaluation.  Sure, they help “differentiate” from the crowd, but at the feature level and without any context.  Just because something is different does not mean it is better for the prospect.  That is why Jill states that USP’s provide little value in the B2B sales campaign.

The Value Proposition is much more useful in the early sales cycle, because it hits upon results and gets closer to the perspective of the customer.  Having hard numbers helps, but not absolutely necessary, particularly when you are still early in the product development cycle and return on investment (ROI) is difficult to measure.  The point though is that a good value proposition should be relevant to the prospect’s need and demonstrate the type of upside that makes your solution a worthwhile investment.

Without a strong value proposition, it’s much harder to sell your products or services in today’s economy, much less even get in the door of big companies. But what is a value proposition? And how is it different from other commonly used terms?

A value proposition is often confused with an “Elevator Speech” or a “Unique Selling Proposition.” It’s essential to understand the difference between these terms because their purposes and sales impact are very different.

Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a short, 1-2 sentence statement that defines who you work with (target market) and the general area in which you help them.

About 10 seconds long, it’s used primarily at networking events to attract potential clients and stimulate discussion. The following elevator speeches show you how some people describe what they do:

  • “I work with small businesses who are struggling to sell their products or services into large corporate accounts.”
  • “We help technology companies effectively use their customer information to drive repeat sales.”
  • “I help small-to-medium sized manufacturing companies who have difficulties with unpredictable revenue streams.”

Unique Selling Proposition

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement about what makes you and your company different from other vendors.

Its primary value is to create competitive differentiation. A USP is often used in marketing materials or in talking with customers who are ready to buy.

Here are a few good USP examples:

  • We specialize in working with financial institutions. (Specialty)
  • We guarantee service in 4 hours or your money back. (Guarantee)
  • We use a unique tool called SureFire! to analyze your critical needs. (Methodology)

Helping customers understand your USP is imperative when they’ve already decided to make a purchase decision. But USPs have absolutely no impact when customers are satisfied with their situation or when they’re frustrated but haven’t yet decided to change. USPs are far more effective in the business-to-consumer market than in business-to-business sales.

Value Proposition

A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services. 

A strong value proposition is specific, often citing numbers or percentages. It may include a quick synopsis of your work with similar customers as a proof source and demonstration of your capability. Here are a couple examples to stimulate your thinking:

  • “We help large companies reduce the cost of their employee benefits programs without impacting benefit levels. With the spiraling costs of health care today, this is a critical issue for most businesses. One of our recent clients, a large manufacturing company similar to yours, was struggling with how to reduce spending in this area. We saved them over $800,000 in just six months. Plus, they didn’t cut any services to their employees, nor did their employees have to pay more.”
  • “I help technology companies who are launching an important new product into the marketplace – and need it to be successful to achieve their sales forecast. Where I help my clients is in the often dropped hand-off between marketing and sales. As a result, they’re able to more easily meet projected sales goals and significantly shorten time-to-profitability.”

Both the elevator speech and the USP are cousins of the value proposition, but there is one vital difference: they lack the punch of a value proposition when selling to the corporate market.

34 plays
Aretha Franklin,
Amazing Grace

SOUL WEEK WORSHIP SUNDAY: Wholly Holy by Aretha Franklin - This could possibly be the most excellent worship album ever, not to mention just being a great album regardless of genre.  The Queen of Soul had gone back to her Baptist roots for this 1972 live album at a church in Southern California.  Some accounts say she literally channeled the Holy Spirit as she sang, and listening to this album I have no doubt about that.

As this is also Soul Week, the tune Wholly Holy seemed appropriate.  The tune was written by Al Cleveland, Renaldo Benson and Marvin Gaye for one of the all-time great albums What’s Going On.  The tune is deeply spiritual, in line with the rest of Gaye’s album, but in the hands and voice of Aretha, it takes on an entirely new dimension.  The song is lush and beautiful and powerful.  You can feel the power of God in each word and quiver of Aretha’s voice.  As we go into the coming week, I just want to leave you with these words:

Everybody together, together and holy
Will holler love, love, love across the nation

God bless and have a glorious Sunday!