The Digital Prison

The Digital Prison

Our Digital Prison

Find challenge in business

If you’ve read many of my previous posts, you’ve heard me occasionally reference my favorite podcast, Philisophize This! By Stephen West. Stephen does a great job distilling important and sometimes complex philosophical concepts into language even reformed physics geeks like myself can understand.

There have been several episodes of the podcast over the last couple months on the concept of “Digital Panopticon”.  Without reconstructing all the great explanations that Mr West has provided, I’ll digest to say he’s talking about a digital prison. This prison is constructed specifically so that there is an asymmetry between those “watching over us” and us prisoners. In the digital version, the information flow is controlled and unidirectional.

This concept has so much relevancy in today’s information construct. The various social media algorithms, and biased media sources, are specifically crafting information flows that are intended to reinforce either our own preconceptions, or worse, a particular political, economic, or religious agenda. The new information net is so good at what it does that the receivers (us “prisoners”) are not even aware that the information is being groomed.

So, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I’m not (necessarily) stating that there is intentional “mind control” going on. But even if I don’t see a nefarious single mind or group (think “Illuminati” 😊) behind this grooming, it is clear that information is being groomed for our benefit. The most benign purpose would be to sell us something, e.g., an ad on killer skis soon after we read an article on Vail Resorts. And even if the algorithms are not necessarily intended to reinforce a particular agenda, they still are very good at reinforcing what we already believe (right or wrong).  The current Net is not designed to inform or better yet challenge our thinking — it is designed to reinforce what we already believe and think we know.

So, what does this “digital prison” have to do with business?

So, backing all this down:  What does this blog have to do with business? It is a simple as this. It is critical in any effective business to be able to make well-informed decisions based upon the best information we can gather. If we simply follow the self-reinforcing algorithms, we will find ourselves digesting information that is specifically crafted to reinforce what we already believe. One of the hardest challenges of being a business leader (or human for that matter) is to avoid allowing ourselves to fall into a rut. How many examples do you personally know of companies and their leaders failing because they “went down a rabbit hole”? They continued following a business path because “it is the way we’ve always done it” and missed a key change in the market. For us to be good at what we do, we must always seek out information that may challenge our preconceptions.  We must strive against the “echo chamber” of the social media and news media feeds.

I’ll conclude with a specific example — the “soft landing” or “doomed to recession” debate. There have been economists on both sides that were not only committed to one view or another but were sermonizing and selectively choosing data to support their view. If you already had an inclination to see doom and gloom, and this aligned with a particular political narrative, and if you only watched “news” channels that reinforced this gloom, then you were likely making business decisions based upon an imminent crash. However, if you were already optimistic of a soft landing (and again because you were inclined to want to give the current administration some credit), then you likely only found yourself listening to data in support of this belief — and may have made business decisions in line with this predicted outcome.

Either approach is flawed and risky. If I wish to make the best business decisions possible (for me or my clients), then I need to seek out information and opinions that contradict my current viewpoint.  If I am a typical CNN watcher, then I need to take a look at Fox occasionally — and vice versa. Of course, understanding that both are biased sources — but that we as leaders must consider various and sometimes contradictory data in order to make the best decisions for our businesses.

Month in the Life of a Fractional COO

Month in the Life of a Fractional COO

Month in the Life of a Fractional COO

Month in the life of a fractional executive

I often get asked, “What exactly does a Fractional COO do?”  I get it.  I think the problem is not just about a fractional, but that the definition of a COO is really “in the eye of the beholder.”  Where most folks have a pretty good picture of what the job of CEO is, and in general, CFO’s have a pretty well-defined job description, the details of the COO role vary a lot from company to company. At large corporations, the COO role may be more (tightly) defined, and even have specific formally specified responsibilities.  At mid-sized firms, there may still be a defined role, but with broader scope and variability.  At startups and small businesses, however, it seems like everyone has a different vision for what the Chief Operating Officer does — basically just the chief “Filler of Holes”.

Add to that the whole concept of “fractional”, and it is not wonder that there is some confusion.

In hopes of providing more clarity, I am presenting myself as an example.  Below, you will find a listing of the tasks/projects I accomplished in the month of April 2023.  While my responsibilities vary greatly between my clients and over time, this may provide some insights on the value that a fractional COO can bring to your small to mid-sized business.  I’m sure this list is not complete, but hopefully, it provides some insights on the value prop of bringing on a fractional COO.

With all my clients, I strive to be a trusted resource, to make my CEO client and his/her team, the most effective they can be.  I take on those tasks and projects that are important to the business, but are either not within the wheelhouse of the CEO, or not what brings him/her passion and energy.  By freeing up the CEO to be at their best, I make both of us, and the company, more successful and efficient.

Implement a new Expense Management tool/process for my Healthcare client

Rolled out a new online tool that allows the staff to categorize and specify the office location for all charges in their company-assigned credit cards.  This system is directly integrated with our accounting system, to allow for automatic and direct mapping of charges into the Profit and Loss statement.  Set up access and trained all staff members.

Developed a Pricing Model for my Construction client

It is necessary to better understand both our Gross Profit and Net Profit associated with any particular project bid.  Developed a model, based upon historical financial and bid data, that predicts both gross and net profits, from the input of the square footage of a construction project.  Used historical OpEx data to “fully load” the below-the-line costs onto the individual projects.

Updated the Financial Projections for my Custom Software Development client

Either monthly, or semi-monthly, I update a Financial Projection Model I had created, incorporating the previous month’s P&L as well as any revised revenue and expense projections, to show not only historical trends, but also to project revenue, expenses, and profit for the year.  This particular client has multiple corporate entities whose financials must be merged into the Model.  In addition, the Model both tracks and projects Cash Flow.

Restructure a P&L for my Healthcare client

This client’s business has multiple corporate entities, along with multiple books in their accounting software.  In order to provide an overall picture of the state of the business, needed to synchronize the structure (Chart of Accounts) across all entities, and then create a procedure to merge these in Excel.  Worked with the client’s accountant to update the requisite account structures.

Performed multiple sales demos with prospects for my Construction Tech (SaaS) client

As the primary Sales & Sales Ops person for this small business client, I am often called upon to do online demonstrations of the functionality of our SaaS product.  Update our CRM and pipeline with results of each call.

Networking! Networking! Networking!

As a solo entrepreneur, especially one that relies upon referrals for future business, it is critical to continue to build my Brand in the local (Denver metro) market, as well as to establish key strategic relationships across the US.  This networking effort not only helps with my Brand, it also provides strategic connections to resources that I can bring in when appropriate to assist in my clients’ needs.

Review various contracts and RFP responses for my Custom Software Development client

I am often asked to review contract language by one of my clients.  This last month, I was involved with an assignment agreement that arose due to a corporate transition within one of our customers.  I worked with the customer’s legal team, as well as bringing in our own counsel when appropriate.  (I always make it quite clear that I am NOT a lawyer, and defer to bringing in expert advice when there are any questions.)

Amend an employment agreement for a sales person for my Construction client

Thisi sales person was originally brought in with just a base salary.  It was time to amend the agreement, to define an incentive program (i.e., commissions.)

Evaluate a trial with a 3rd-party Lead Gen company for my Construction Tech/SaaS client

I’d been working with a Lead Gen company to push more leads into our pipeline.  Pulled the 3 months of data together from our CRM, and evaluated the ROI from the effort.  Made a recommendation for next steps to the members of the company/LLC.

Hired a couple key resources for my Custom Software Development client

Worked with my CEO client and an outside recruiting firm, to define (Job Description), locate, interview, and hire two new employees.  Negotiated the terms of the offer with the prospect, and successfully secured the hire.  Performed all the Onboarding tasks with our PEO.

Multiple customer service tickets for my Construction Tech/SaaS client

I’m also the frontline Tier 1 and 2 support person for this client. 🙂  Since I came on board a few years ago, our turnaround time on support tickets went from as much as a week to just a few hours, in general.  

Finalized implementation of digital card scheme for Healthcare client

To further steamline the financial management for the company, we’ve implemented a digital card model, wherein recurring vendors are assigned GL account-specifc (and location-specific) digital cards.  When charges come in, these are automatically loaded into our accounting system, properly categorized and assigned to location.  This reduces errors as well as time spent (and charged) by our accountant.

New digital marketing push for Custom Software Development client

Working with new 3rd party web and digital marketing firm, to begin the process of revamping the existing web presence, as well to kick start our organic leads (i.e., SEO.)  This is an ongoing project, which I will manage.

Integrate bidding software and CRM for Construction client

Built a Zapier integration between the bidding software and our CRM, so that when jobs are marked as Closed Sold in the former, the status of the lead in the CRM is automatically updated.

Managed a platform upgrade (and transition to AWS) for my Construction Tech/SaaS client

Working with our 3rd party development staff to define and implement an upgrade of our PHP platform to the latest supported version.  This addresses a security concern, as our older version was no longer supported by many security patches.  In addition, moving from our hosted hardware to a cloud-based server farm, to reduce both risk and costs.

Performance Management for my Custom Software Development client

Regular one-on-one meetings with all staff, to follow up on the specific goals we set during the Performance Review process done at the beginning of the year.  (I pretty much am HR for this small company. 🙂

Manage the marketing push for my Construction client

Work with our marketing firm to define and measure effectivity of our marketing goals.  Develop and follow-up on ROI-based 3-month goals for our organic and paid digital pushes.

Hiring a Fractional COO to Bring you to Exit

Hiring a Fractional COO to Bring you to Exit

Fractional COO:  Prepare for your Exit

Should you choose a fractional COO?
So, you’re an owner of a small business, and you’re considering your Exit — planning to sell your company in the 1-4 years.  Why would you consider hiring a fractional COO?  How can you take advantage of the years of experience that CHAZM Consulting brings to your company, on a part-time basis?

Below are just a few reasons to bring on an Operational Expert to help you maximize the value of your business upon sale.

(Scroll down to the bottom for the kicker!)

 

Get your business ready to sale.

A fractional COO can help the business owner get their finances in order, update their marketing materials, and create a business plan. All of these things can make the business more attractive to potential buyers.

Improve the performance of your business.

A fractional COO can help the business owner improve their business’s performance in a number of ways, such as by developing new marketing strategies, improving efficiency, and reducing costs. This can make the business more valuable to potential buyers.

Valuation of your business is tied to two key performance and business factors:

  • Net profit is a measure of the business’s value to potential buyers. The higher the net profit, the more valuable the business is to potential buyers.
  • Businesses with strong growth potential are typically more valuable than businesses with limited growth potential.

Free up your time.

A fractional COO can take over some of the day-to-day responsibilities of the business owner, freeing up your time to focus on other things, such as preparing for the sale of your business.

To get expert advice.

A fractional COO can provide the business owner with expert advice on a variety of topics, such as business strategy, finance, and marketing. This can help you the business owner make better decisions and improve your chances of success.

Overall, hiring a fractional COO can be a valuable decision for a small business owner who plans to sell their business in a couple years. A fractional COO can help the business owner get their business ready for sale, improve its performance, free up their time, and get expert advice — generally, at a much lower cost than hiring a full-time COO.

Engaging an operational consultant to help you execute your Exit Plan can be very advantageous for a Business Owner.  Whereas every hire you make, such as a COO, directly adds to payroll expense, your investment in a consultant, such as a fractional COO, is considered a one-off expense, and can be added back in the calculation of your company’s value to a new owner.

— Gregg Kunz, Principal Broker, Rocky Mountain Business Advisors, Inc.

Fractional COO brings great value to your Exit!
Career Choices:  Courage or Luck?

Career Choices: Courage or Luck?

Career Choices: Courage or Luck?

Should you choose a fractional COO?

I often describe to my friends that my career progression has been a “long and crooked path.”  I have worn many disparate hats during my work evolution, from tester, coder, project manager, director of software, CEO, and now fractional COO.  While I have certainly advocated for myself through all these career changes, it is not at all clear that I have had a real plan.  The only common thread through all these moves is my instinctive desire to reach out for more challenges, and my dread of being bored.

I’ve been thinking recently about the transition period between being CEO of a medical device startup to my current career track of fractional executive (COO/CFO).  Specifically, I’ve been wondering what role courage or choice had in this, and contrarily, what was simple luck/fate.  When I first decided to leave the CEO role at ActivArmor, it was a risky move.  I did not have anything lined up.  Perhaps, that was a sign of courage — or maybe it was just desperation.  The stress and frustration in my CEO role was increasing, and becoming untenable.  So, it may have been less courageous, and just necessary.

I had an instinct and basic plan that I aspired to be a COO, and really was not crazy about working for just one company again.  It was clear that working with a single company, and single Founder, was too risky for me — all my eggs in one basket.  This being said, I was not sure how to create such a fractional career.  So, I also pursued “full time” opportunities.  (This dual track approach just seemed like prudent risk mitigation — perhaps, the opposite of courage.)   I had several interviews, for jobs that I could easily kick ass with.  But, I kept missing these.  It became clear that my age and experience was actually working against me.  This was most obvious in my last attempt in this track, at a medical device company call SwissLog.  They needed someone to fix their rampant quality issues, and given my record of long years of doing just this, and considerable medical device experience, it was a slam dunk.  However, I was rejected, and was actually told that they were “looking for someone who could come in and build their whole career around SwissLog.”  Besides that blatant naivety of this statement (have they ever met a Millenial?), it was explicit ageism.  That being said, failing to secure a full-time track position, in retrospect, was the best thing that could have happened to my career.  I could not have known this at the time, but now I have a dream job — working with multiple clients as fractional COO/CFO, solving widely variant problems, preparing for their eventual exits, making a real difference to my clients’ success, and getting WAY more revenue than I would with any job I had interviewed with.

But this was NOT a courageous or planned decision on my part. I would have taken the job at SwissLog if offered. (I saw some interesting challenges there.) It was just good luck that I failed to land that job, and I went forward to build my current career.

Some people do not believe in “luck” — rather, they state that opportunities come to those that allow room for them to present themselves. I get that! I have succeeded because (a) I embrace and seek out challenges, and (b) I stay present and aware and “make room” for opportunities. (See my blog on Simone Weil’s Ethics of Attention — she says this way more eloquently than I do.)

Career progression

Professional courage … involves an ability (or an instinct) to sense opportunities and then sus out the right response and timing.    — forbes.com

For another great perspective on making courageous career choices, check out this blog by Jane Benston.

As always, if you find my ramblings interesting, and would like to have a (somewhat geeky?) chat about philosophy of business, please reach out.

New and Exciting Partnership!

New and Exciting Partnership!

New and Exciting Partnership!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I am excited to announce that I’m now working as a Principal with C Squared Solutions, a fractional executive team here in Denver.  I have been considering for quite some time establishing a relationship with such a team, as part of expanding my fractional COO business.  I know Dave Johnson, the managing partner, as a person of integrity with extensive expertise and experience.  I am excited to work with such an organization, and look forward to being part of this great team!

C Squared Solutions provides deeply experienced fractional or interim CEOs, COOs, and CFOs to round out your leadership team and help you solve your company’s most complex and pressing challenges.

I anticipate strong synergies and learnings as part of this new partnership.  I am confident that C‑Squared will bring additional value to my clients, and that my experience and skills can bring value to clients of C-Squared.

Look for more as we move forward.  And, I’ll be sharing some of the great posts and articles that Dave Johnson creates regularly.