The War to End all Wars?…Or is War a Good Analogy for Business?

I was reflecting on the juxtaposition of the recent and rare palindromic Veteran’s Day 11-11-11, and the origin of that day, known as Armistice Day. On that day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – hostilities in the First World War ended. The war was so brutal and costly that the day became a holiday in many countries around the world. It was also known as Remembrance Day.

We are presently working on creating a reading list for this website for veterans. I conceived of the idea from several sources. First, my experience in my Marine Corps career. Regular professional reading was an ongoing requirement. This is a link to the Commandant’s Reading List. Second, on my Linked-in account, there is space for books and book recommendations. Third, and finally, from a series for entrepreneurial education by the Kauffman Foundation called the Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

One of the foundational skills around which we plan our curriculum at the UConn Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities is business communications. I believe the entrepreneur’s ability to communicate precisely his/her plan to create value via a commercialization plan, a formal business plan, a 30-second elevator pitch, a 30-second youtube commercial, via social media or via a $50 advertisement in a local newspaper, or a 1-minute brief to an angel investor is the single most crucial skill. The ability to sell your value idea to everyone in the value landscape – customers, vendors, suppliers, investors, creditors, competitors – is the decisive competitive advantage for the entrepreneur. All things being equal, that is how one start-up distinguishes itself from every other start-up. The ability to communicate with the marketplace will make or break a start-up.

This recent article in INC Magazine Is War a Good Analogy for Business struck me as a profound misunderstanding of what Sun Tzu wrote in his timeless classic The Art of War. Sun Tzu believed that war was a failure of politics, that is, a failure of political communication to reach rational compromise. Rather, Sun Tzu believed in winning without fighting; he considered that the greatest accomplishment of the general. Less than victory without fighting was failure. Failure was the result of the general’s inability to correctly account for the five knowledges necessary to achieve victory: knowledge of self, knowledge of the enemy, knowledge of the people (nation), knowledge of the army, and knowledge of the terrain and weather. Anyone with military experience reading this will recognize the similarity to the acronym METT-TSL: Mission, Enemy, Troops, Terrain/weather – Time, Space, Logistics.

Master Sun understood one simple, ineluctable and timeless truth: wars are expensive. Wars cost money, and to quote the master “Avoid long wars. They deplete the treasury and exhaust the nation.” To offer a quote from a famous movie “I don’t like blood. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.”

Currently, a brief sojourn through popular literature and television show dozens of examples of endeavors now considered wars. There numerous reality tv shows, including Parking Wars, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Food Wars, Insect Wars, and Whisker Wars, to name just a few. I submit that the current fascination with and mis-use of the concept of “war” as entertainment may be a pop cultural reason for the decline of entrepreneurship and value creation in this country. After a decade of two wars, people would rather be entertained by the spectacle of war, rather than create value. But this is Sun Tzu’s point – war is a failure to communicate. These reality tv shows create drama for entertainment purposes not from people communicating and compromising to work and live together – but rather from confrontation and zero-sum, winner-take-all destruction of the other. This is exactly what Sun Tzu meant when he wrote: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it. Perhaps the past decade of two wars has created an idea of war as entertainment, as spectacle, and desensitized our national consciousness to the pain and suffering and the true cost of war?

So as our nation just celebrated its 10th Veteran’s Day while at war, those of us who aspire to become entrepreneurs would do well to heed Sun Tzu’s observation: Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation. Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

War destroys value; entrepreneurship creates value.

How Does Your State Rank for Entrepreneurship???

Recently, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published a short (4 pages! – and one is a thank you page! ) report on the state of entrepreneurship in the United States. http://www.inc.com/news/articles/201108/new-york-tops-for-entrepreneurship.html

The report measured five variables to which they assigned an index value of 1.00, and measured a statistical variation from 1.00 to rank the states.

The five variables were

     1) percent growth in new establishments

     2) percent growth in new establishments per capita

     3) business formation rate

     4) patents per thousand residents

     5) gross receipts of sole proprietorships and partnerships per capita


If At First You Don’t Succeed…

At the Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, we are completely, 100% committed to giving veterans every opportunity and all the tools to be successful entrepreneurs. We’re really rooting for everyone to be immensely and wildly successful! But it doesn’t always work that way, unfortunately.

And that’s ok.

I posted an earlier blog that I titled How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. But the cold hard truth is, most entrepreneurs fail first, fail early, and fail often.

Thomas Edison famously said about his invention of the light-bulb “I discovered 9,999 ways not to make a light bulb.”

Hank Aaron once said, when asked about his home-run hitting prowess, that he really only hit a home run once out of every 20 at-bats, and he considered his success more a function of health and longevity than anything else (he played full-time for 24 years). For those of you who are baseball fans, they say you can make a career and get into the Hall of Fame by failing 7 out of every 10 at bats – thats a .300 batting average.

Here’s a link to an article called Thirteen Business Leaders Who Failed Before They Succeeded. It’s about 13 famous and wildly successful entrepreneurs who failed miserably before they succeeded. Several went bankrupt. My favorite is Colonel Sanders – of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame – whose famous recipe was rejected more than 1,000 times before he started his business – after the age of 65 – when most people want to retire.


Toby Keith Virginia Beach “American Warrior”-

I am a member of, and on the board of directors of, Semper Max. Semper Max was started by Tim Maxwell, a severely wounded Marine. He started the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment while he was recovering on active duty. When he retired, he attended the EBV program at Texas A&M. He recently sent me this link

This is the link to Semper Max

Matt Bradford, Cpl., USMC, is in a show given by country singer Toby Keith. Matt was severely wounded in Iraq. He Lost both of his legs, and he is completely blind. Despite his conditions, Matt reenlisted in the USMC, and currently (2011) is on the staff at the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East. Check it out!

SDVOB and VOB Certification

On Monday, the 25th of July, the Dept of Veterans Affairs published a study entitled Audit of Veteran-owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-owned Small Business Programs.

The findings are simply stunning. The VA awards more than 1,400 contracts for more than $500 million annually. According to the study, which reviewed contract awards for FY 2010 – 76% (32 out of 42) of contrators were ineligible for the contract that they were awarded.

Here is an article in the May-June issue of VetLikeMe, a national news publication for Service-Disabled Veteran-owned businesses, which tells the story of a “entrepreneur” who fraudulently obtained $16 million in contracts from the Veterans Administration. He faces up to 75 years in prison and more than $3 million in fines.

There are a couple of places to make sure your business is registered.

The VA has a portal called VetBiz where you can register your business as a Service-Disabled Veteran-owned business. The process is designed to be simple and doable. Once certified, you can put the certification stamp on your website, business cards, promotional literature, website, etc. Given the two factoids aforementioned – this is crucial! In business parlance, it is known as a “Strategic Differentiator.”

The second portal is the Central Contractor Registry. Every single federal contractor – anyone who does business with the federal government – can be found here. You can’t get a federal contract without being registered. It takes about an hour to complete the registration – it may well be the most profitable hour in the history of your business!

The Seven Deadly Sins

I found this article How to Avoid the 7 Deadly Website Sins by Jeff Haden at the Bnet Interactive Business Network. I find this articles particularly useful for veteran entrepreneurs making early decisions about how to get on the internet!

As he always does, Jeff emphasizes simplicity, clarity, and concision of communication to your potential customers. And as he always does, he emphasizes the most important thing: be able to deliver what you promise. Veterans recognize that trait – in the military, we call it INTEGRITY.

This fall, we will be emphasizing website design and information technology decisions for entrepreneurs.

For an entrepreneur in the early stages of getting on the 'Net and doing business via the 'Net – these are critical decisions.

UConnEBV Social Media Frenzy – We’re on Twitter!

A Social Media Neophyte Learns to Love Google+

I found this article by John Warrilow at BNet the Interactive Business Network

This is an interesting comparison between Facebook and Google+. Google is getting into the social media game, with a business focus.

Please take a look at this article. Maybe you'll find Google+ fits your social media needs as a start-up vetrepreneur.

And while you're at it – sign up to follow us on Twitter @UConnEBV

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying in the 21st Century

How to Start a Small Business in Just One Day

I found this article on the BNet Interactive Business Network by Jeff Haden. Again, he writes simple truth with flair. But I look at his articles through the lens of a disabled veteran starting a business.

There are a lot of things to do to start a business. But there are a few simple tasks that actually start the business. This is a quick list that helps you cut through the clutter, prioritize your task list, and take the first step.

and make sure you register your business as a Service-disabled, Veteran-owned Business! If you're a woman, or a minority, or your business is in a HUB zone – make sure you get it registered that way!

VETERANS “ABOUT US” It Ain’t Braggin’ If It’s True

7 Ways to Write a Better ‘About Us’ Page

I came across this post by Jeff Haden on the BNet Interactive Business Network recently. Something he wrote struck a chord with me "Writing about yourself is hard.  Writing about your business can be even harder."

This is very true. I know from personal experience, and from working with other veterans. We're proud of our service, but we find ourselves tongue-tied when it comes to describing what each of, respectively, did. That's because we think in terms of the team, or the unit, and of collective mission accomplishment. In general, we are reluctant to accept individual recognition or accolades. We're not comfortable in the spotlight.

Early early on in our military careers – within the first week of bootcamp, I'd say – we learn "It's not about us as individuals."

But as an entrepreneur, it is about "you." And your business. You have a story to tell. You are what's best about America. Your customers should know that.


Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk


There are hundreds of millions – maybe billions – of websites. And still, only about 40% of businesses have an internet presence. Just being on the ‘Net is a strategic differentiator and a competitive advantage for an entrepreneur!

But how do you differentiate your website from the competitors? Let’s stipulate search engine optimization strategies and traffic direction strategies – once you have potential customers looking at your website, how do you turn clicks into customers? What do you say that everyone else isn’t saying?

Or from a potential customer’s point of view – why would they choose your business – choose you – over a competitor?

The list below is reproduced from an article posted by Jeff Haden on Bnet, the Interactive Business Owners Network.

  1. “Innovative.”
    Just about every company claims to be innovative. Most aren’t. You don’t have to be innovative to be successful. But if you truly are innovative, show me. Describe products you developed. Describe processes you modified. Give me      something real — then I’ll know you’re innovative.
  2. “Service provider.” Everyone who meets a need is a service provider. When I fill up my car the gas station is a service provider: I need gas, the station provides it. “Service provider” says nothing. If you sell gas, tell me you sell gas. If you design commercial office spaces, tell me you design commercial office spaces. If you’re an Internet Service Provider, fine — otherwise, use plain language and tell me what you really do.
  3. “Proven track record.” Almost every company has a track record. It may be good, it may be bad, but everyone’s track record is proven. Give me facts and figures instead. Share on-time performance rates, or waste percentages, or under-budget statistics… let your track record be proven by your achievements. Don’t have any achievements yet? No problem; you don’t have a track record either, so it’s a moot point.
  4. “Unique blend of…” If you’re KFC your recipe may be a unique blend of herbs and spices. Otherwise, someone, somewhere, is also doing what you do. You may do it a little better, but you aren’t unique. Describe why you’re better.
  5. “World-class.” Usain Bolt: world-class sprinter. Lindsey Vonn: world-class skier. Makes sense — but what is a world-class company? Who defines world-class? The fact that you provide (or hope to provide) products or services to a global customer base doesn’t mean you are a world-class company.
  6. “Collaborative approach.” You won’t just decide what’s right for me and force me to buy it? Wow! If your process is designed to take my input and feedback, tell me how that works. Describe that process. Show me exactly  how we’ll work together. Don’t just claim we will.
  7. “Outstanding customer experiences.” Providing an outstanding customer experience is important; if you don’t, you’ll fail. The problem with this term is it describes a general phenomenon. How will my experience be outstanding? Tell me what I can expect that will make my experience so outstanding.
  8. “Dynamic.”
    If you’re “vigorously active and forceful,” I prefer you stay away from me.
  9. “Myriad solutions.” This phrase is everywhere. I think the intent is to say, “Boy, we do a lot of stuff.” To me it comes across as, “Basically, we’ll do anything you are willing to pay us to do because we haven’t figured out our business model yet.” Some companies might actually provide myriad solutions. If you’re one of them, break those solutions down into categories, list the categories, and then describe each one somewhere else. But don’t talk about solutions. I want you to solve my problem; tell me how you will. Solutions has become a buzzword and is therefore meaningless.
  10. “Results oriented.” Really? I will get what I pay for? Wow — I assumed you would focus on something more important than results. Thanks for letting me know!

There is a common theme in this list: use plain language, and prove it. Provide facts and numbers. Vets understand this concept – we recognize it as "if you're going to Talk the Talk, you have to be able to Walk the Walk."

This article, while not definitive, is a start towards thinking about what you want to include on your website.