Winner – Technology

Combining a competitive nature, a talent for teamwork and a desire to make a lasting impact in the audio technology industry, Jon E. Kirchner, chairman and CEO of DTS Inc., has dedicated himself to delivering best-in-class audio solutions.

Kirchner has built an attractive, scalable, high-margin IP licensing business model that is sustained by innovation and participation in key industries.

DTS provides state-of-the-art audio technology to licensed consumer electronics products. Kirchner has guided the company through many phases of growth and change, from rapid international expansion to divesting major segments of its business. Through vision, innovation, creativity, partnership and competitive drive, he has successfully led DTS to be one of the most profitable and highly valued companies in its industry. DTS continues to create new state-of-the-art audio solutions that deliver a superior audio experience to the consumer. Today, there are nearly 1 billion DTS-licensed consumer electronics products worldwide.

A key differentiator for DTS is the investment it makes in its people and the amount of focus it puts on developing a stronger organization. Kirchner keenly believes that the success of any company lies in its people and teamwork. He has made a big investment in acquiring and retaining superior talent within the organization. DTS is known for having some of the world’s best audio scientists and has cultivated and nurtured an organization capable of adapting and innovating in a rapidly evolving industry.

Currently, Kirchner is leading DTS through another phase of transformation to capitalize on recent market trends toward cloud-based entertainment and mobile entertainment consumption. He is always staying alert to the skills and capabilities the company needs to continue to push forward and remain an innovative leader in the audio technology industry.

How to reach: DTS Inc., www.dts.com

Published in Los Angeles
Thursday, 01 December 2011 12:40

The power of philanthropy

At Ernst & Young LLP’s recent Strategic Growth Forum, the largest gathering of high-growth entrepreneurs in the world (more than 2,500), myriad issues facing business today were discussed.

The annual forum serves as an idea marketplace where the best and brightest minds share what works, what doesn’t and what’s next in the wild world of business and entrepreneurship.

One common theme that arose from participants during the forum was the importance of giving back to the community.

Entrepreneurs passionately believe it is their responsibility to help strengthen the communities where they and their employees live and work. They believe that since they have the means to do so, it’s important to carry that success forward and help those who are in need. And they believe it’s imperative to supports causes that align with the missions or beliefs they and their employees hold.

I was honored to spend some time at the forum with Amy Rosen, president and CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. We spoke at length about how NFTE works nationwide with inner-city schoolchildren to teach them entrepreneurial skills and create the next generation of high-growth businesses.

Many of you might not have made the connection, but here in Northeast Ohio, we have an affiliate of NFTE in Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). This connection resulted from YOU’s merger with E CITY, a program that serial entrepreneur John Zitzner founded several years ago.

As you might have noticed, this month’s edition includes coverage of the 2011 Medical Mutual Pillar Award for Community Service. We received a record number of nominations — nearly 90 — which represents how companies are working with and supporting the nonprofit sector, how executives are donating their time, talent and money to causes on the boards of nonprofits and how nonprofit leaders are applying for-profit business savvy to make their organizations that much stronger.

We, at Smart Business, were so impressed by the record number of nominees and the work they are doing that we felt we would be doing a disservice by only telling you about the winners. Because of this, we have expanded this issue so that we could tell you about every organization that submitted a nomination.

As you read, we hope you walk away with the same level of new inspiration as we have received.

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and executive editor of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or dsklein@sbnonline.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Good news: It’s an ideal time to start a business in Columbus, according to Steve Barsotti, a director with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter.

“The downturn in the economy has sparked a lot of activity in the startup space over the last few years,” Barsotti says. “Some people have started businesses by necessity as other career avenues have been cut off to them. Fortunately, the business community here is very open, with many resources available and a lot of formal and informal support.”

Barsotti emphasizes the importance of having a good business plan along with good records, books and documentation right out of the gate. “It’s critical to talk with good counsel and accountants when you first start out,” he says. “For a relatively small investment, they will help you set up the business in a way that will maximize your opportunity for growth and avoid more expensive problems down the road.”

Smart Business asked Barsotti about key considerations when starting up a business.

How does one determine the best legal structure for his or her startup?

The best legal structure depends on a number of factors, but it’s particularly important for startup companies to structure in a way that allows for flexibility and growth. The limited liability company (LLC) format is typically a good choice for startups because it provides for pass-through tax treatment and also allows the company to bring in different types of investors and structure preferred returns that investors in a start-up will often expect. Again, basic up-front legal and accounting advice can be critical. Oftentimes, new clients come to us and have already set up a structure that is less than ideal.

How important is the business plan?

A good business plan is the key. Without a good plan, there’s really no chance of getting any funding. It’s easy to get stalled.  And it’s important to have a plan that is well researched and thought-out, but also builds in some flexibility. In the startup phase, you need the flexibility to improvise and adapt quickly.

Too often an entrepreneur might have a kernel of an idea, but they have not yet gone through the projections and numbers to determine if it would work as a business. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has good online resources for creating basic business plans.

How can an entrepreneur find funding in the present economic environment?

This is the toughest question for an entrepreneur to answer during the startup phase. The answer depends on the business’s capital needs and what is realistic.

A lot of businesses, in particular internet-based businesses, can be boot-strapped because they are not necessarily capital intensive. The owner uses personal savings, home equity, credit cards and ‘sweat equity’ to get the business off the ground. Asking friends and family is another common avenue, but this raises issues of securities compliance and can get pretty hairy if the business fails.

Because traditional bank financing has been difficult to come by, we’re seeing increased activity in private placement of equity investment with angels and accredited investors at an early stage, particularly for entrepreneurs who have a positive track record. Although bank financing is still tight, I always recommend talking with bankers to see what might be available. If nothing else, it can help develop a relationship and the banker can give helpful feedback on the business plan.

How can the owner protect his or her ideas and products right from the beginning?

At the startup phase, you’re trying to set up your business for cost-effective growth. Protecting your intellectual property is critical to that effort, and all startups should have an appropriate IP strategy, which will differ dramatically depending on the nature of the business. For some startups, strategic patent filings have to be made despite the cost in order for the business to have any real chance of success in the long-term.  For others, patents may not be an issue, but speed to market or effective brand protection may be more critical.  In all cases, you need to be smart and selective about whom you share your ideas with and you need to have basic contractual protections with those involved to protect confidentiality and to ensure that IP ownership is clearly vested in the company. Having template contracts drawn up is a small investment up front, but the consequences of not having them can be devastating and negatively impact the value of the business you’re trying to grow.

This will also help set the expectations of the people you’re dealing with.

What should the entrepreneur be aware of in terms of contracting labor or hiring employees?

Again, have good contracts. Ensure that confidentiality and non-compete agreements are in place and that intellectual property will be effectively transferred to the company. Be aware of regulatory guidelines that will help you determine whether someone is an independent contractor or an employee. If you need to hire employees, make sure you are in compliance with insurance requirements and tax filings. A good payroll service and a good accountant can certainly help avoid problems.

How can the business get additional help?

Columbus has really developed a solid network that supports startup activity.  Technology companies (which include more than you may think) can find assistance with the TechColumbus TechStart Incubator, which has a high-profile presence and provides typical incubator support. In addition, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce is actively working to promote startup activity in the community and provides good networking, research and other support services. It can be a terrific resource for entrepreneurs.  Many times, the key to success is simply connecting people with the right experience, vision and skill sets.

STEVE BARSOTTI is a director with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Reach him at (614) 462-5458 or sbarsotti@keglerbrown.com.

Published in Columbus

How many times have you been disappointed because one of your employees or associates didn’t produce as promised or as you expected? How many times when this occurred did you merely chalk it up as a black mark against the offender? If this is a recurring theme with those who work for you, then perhaps you should look in the mirror as the problem may be with you — not them.

The fact is that most employees want to do it right. Most actually work diligently at doing what they believe is expected. The best of these employees aggressively make that extra effort to take their performance to the next level.

In order for employees to deliver and excel, it is your job to first thoroughly explain what is expected of them on every major new effort. Failures come in all sizes and shapes, but there is typically one common denominator underlying the miss. It usually starts with a failure to communicate, including defining the key elements necessary to effectively accomplish the goal. Secondly, the necessary check points probably were not established from the get-go to prevent the project from straying off course. Finally, the person doing the work may not have been told the importance of the assignment, and that he or she must ask for help if problems were to arise. Human nature is to “whistle in the dark” and forge ahead even if there is that nagging sense that all is not right.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If you want something done and done correctly you must take the time and make the effort to simply explain the task and provide the pertinent details. If the people undertaking the work understand the purpose and the expected benefits, they’ll be more deliberate in producing an appropriate finished product. Understanding the goals dramatically increases the odds of success. If people don’t know why they are being told to do something, it’s not realistic to expect them to even care.

Too frequently, bosses think that employees will understand what must be done and think this will come about through some magical process or by osmosis. This would be nice, but it just doesn’t work that way. Many times you won’t get feedback on the task’s progress because too many people believe it’s a sign of weakness to report in or to ask questions. There is an easy fix to that problem; if you’re not getting a sense of the status of what’s happening and it’s an important effort — you go to them. When you lose touch with the evolution of a significant project, your people could sense this as a sign that it’s not important to you.

Too frequently when an effort results in disappointments, everything hits the fan. This causes various degrees of angst on numerous fronts and, most important, radically reduces productivity, leads to missed deadlines and, even worse, may result in a costly lost opportunity.

If a project goes south it’s mandatory that you find out why. Many times it’s too easy and convenient for the boss to say, “handle it,” without explaining what “it” means. The combination of those two words, followed by the assignee stating, “I’m on it,” without having all the blanks properly filled in, makes it a good bet that the end results will not be pretty.

Clearly, not every undertaking requires a detailed explanation or a well-documented work plan, but even the simplest task needs to be articulated clearly and requires an answer to this question: Is this a “down and dirty” job or do you need near perfection? Also you must provide a deadline. If you don’t give one, the employee can’t prioritize his or her work.

The much-quoted statement dating back to the War of 1812 proclaimed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Business is tough enough as it is; make sure you’re not the enemy contributing to a failure because you didn’t communicate what needs to be known by all involved so there are no surprises. The first rule of being a leader is to provide explicit directions to those who must follow you. If the employee fails, you’re not the only one who will be disappointed — he or she will be, too.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at mfeuer@max-wellness.com.

A unique new book with an unorthodox, yet proven approach to achieving extraordinary success.

What does it take to grow rapidly and effectively from mind to market?

This book offers an unconventional philosophy for starting and building a business that exceeds your own expectations.

Beating the competition is never easy. That’s why it requires a benevolent dictator.

Published by John Wiley & Sons. AVAILABLE NOW! Order online now at: www.thebenevolentdictator.biz

Also available wherever books and eBooks are sold, and from Smart Business Magazine and www.SBNOnline.com. Contact Dustin S. Klein of Smart Business at (800) 988-4726 for bulk order special pricing.

Published in Akron/Canton
Monday, 18 July 2011 06:26

Channel partners

Entrepreneurship arises from the strangest of places.

For Talia Mashiach, founder and CEO of Eved, her winding path began shortly after she accompanied her musician husband to a meeting at a hotel where he hoped to generate more referrals for his band.

“I have a technology background,” she says. “But I love thinking about business models. I had done some back-office work for his band, and he figured I could help with some ideas that would lead to more business.”

The meeting didn’t go as planned.

“I went with him and the hotel executive said, ‘Well, we don’t just want to offer bands. Our catering and event managers spend so much time manually handling logistics and dealing with these multiple suppliers that come in for an event, can you handle everything for us?’”

Mashiach didn’t know anything about the event business, but she did understand how to deploy technology-based solutions. “When I looked at the opportunity to aggregate all the individual suppliers and sell and manage them for the hotel, I really saw a supply chain play, which has been done in other industries, but not in Meetings & Events,” she says. “I couldn’t get over how manual and fragmented everything was, how many logistics between multiple supply chain members and how often things needed to change throughout an event. So we came up with this idea.”

Smart Business Publisher and Executive Editor Dustin S. Klein sat down with Mashiach, who was named to the 2009 class of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women, and talked about the roots of innovation for her 30-plus employee organization.

What were the early applications you developed at Eved?

I saw a big opportunity for a global event portal in the long-run, but knew we needed to start with understanding the event industry, how the supply chain members worked together and what ultimately the client wanted. We needed to build our own service company to figure this out. We came up with a model in which we would put people in-house in the hotel, providing the client with a one stop shop when they came to a hotel.

We developed technology to communicate and transact between ourselves and the suppliers we bought from – florists, transportation companies, entertainers. We also created technology that enabled our sales people to view a catalogue of our suppliers’ products online and easily add items to a quick quote or proposal reducing the turnaround time to clients by an average minimum of 48 hours.  Automated purchase orders and change requests took out the manual back and forth, saving thousands of hours in labor from sales and operations to finance.

We were able to manage an average of 1,800 event orders to our suppliers per month with one finance person and 25 people in sales and operations.

The hotels had become channel partners, so when their clients came to the hotel and were looking for something, they’d say, ‘Anything you need outside of rooms and food or beverage you can work with the expert team from Eved, who is on-site and works closely with our catering and event manager to create a great event.’ This model proved that with the right technology, even small one-off orders, like a single sedan transfer or VIP floral bouquet, can be profitable. For the first time, it allowed a company to service the client for their large event needs and their very small ones. This was a key service the client was looking for.

I’m sure this was eye-opening. What did you learn from this?

Through this experience, I learned a tremendous amount about the industry. How the markets and supply chain members work together. What  clients are really looking for in an event service partner and the real inefficiencies that are experienced daily by this industry. We put a plan together to really scale this company. We created a global platform that would bring all the members of the event supply chain online to be able to communicate and transact through an online marketplace.

In 2010, we launched our global marketplace, Eved, and took the experience and technology and offered it to all members of the event supply chain to interact and transact online. Now anyone can sign up to automate their entire process – from proposal creation to purchase orders to transactions.

We are just finishing our beta and will offer online Event Galleries where event suppliers can create storefronts to sell their services online. Companies and individuals will be able to purchase all their small meeting needs online.

What do you offer in products and services for your clients today?

Eved is a B2B marketplace that allows members of the meeting and event supply chain to communicate and transact online. There’s about $150 billion spent on event services in the U.S. All of this is currently transacted offline by literally thousands of destination-specific small businesses that are involved in providing services for events – from ground transportation to restaurant reservations. Our cloud-based platform gives those businesses the ability to quickly and efficiently conduct business with each other. Whether a business is using our vendor management capabilities to search for a new supplier, or employing our online commerce tools to streamline the proposal, purchase order, invoice or payment process, The technology takes a lot of the manual labor out, significantly reducing the cost of sale. Eved is all about helping our clients grow, strengthen, and control their businesses.

How would you describe segments of clients?

We target all the members of the event supply chain – corporations and organizations that hold meetings or conferences,  third-party meeting planning companies that are hired by corporations, hotels, destination management and event companies, restaurants, suppliers such as florists, entertainers, décor companies and transportation companies. We believe that the meeting, incentive companies and destination managemetn companies play a major role in the future of events and ensuring events bring measurable results to a corporation. Our technology enables these companies to provide more cost effective and new services to their existing corporate clients.

We were fortunate enough to have some great clients come on early and clearly articulate how our technology can help them work with their suppliers. When we met their expectations, they invited their global suppliers to join them on Eved, providing value for both buyers and sellers. This also helped us quickly populate that segment of the supply chain globally. We have now provided valuable tools for these destination management and event companies to streamline how they work with their suppliers. This creates new opportunities for everyone. We have engaged all of our early adopters and clients to give us their input and continue to help us develop technology that enables all members of the supply chain to reduce costs and increase sales.  Perhaps most exciting about Eved is that you can streamline the way you do business with whoever you choose as long as both of you are on Eved. Eved creates the bridge.

What is an example of a business challenge that your organization faced and the solution you used?

What most people don’t realize is the magnitude of pioneering technology that will transform an industry. Many people assume that if they create the best technology, then people will use it. But it’s not just the technology. You have to understand and communicate how by using the technology your business can grow It’s not so much training – how to click, where to click and what to do within Eved – it’s much more about how you help these companies, especially small businesses, maximize the business opportunities Eved can create for them.  One comparison could be what businesses thought of having a website when the internet was in its early stage. Some people bought into the vision early and got their websites going and created new business models around having this new technology. Others waited and were pushed to create a website because their competition had one. The early adopters created a huge advantage for themselves. Our clients can see the Eved vision, but we need to continue to help them understand how it helps their business.  So it’s about reaching out personally, and working with them on how to use Eved to better change their business practices and grow their companies. Our future offerings will be continuing to introduce and evolve new technology that will help our clients grow their sales and cut their costs.

How do you consider yourself an innovative leader?

A lot of people realize the meeting and event industry is a good 15 years behind when it comes to technology. I think we are unique in our approach to incorporate the existing supply chain and enable them to better work with one another. I think the industry has embraced us because no one gets displaced. Everyone wins when they work with us.  What is being cut out is all the no value-add manual labor that can be reallocated to grow one’s business. I also think we have earned the respect of some of the industry leaders because they appreciate our deep industry knowledge and innovative approach.

We’re in a unique situation. Either technical people see an opportunity in the meetings industry and want to build technology to solve a problem without knowing the ins and outs of the space, or they are familiar with the meeting industry but don’t know a lot about technology. So they outsource it, with instructions on what they want it to do.

As the founder of Eved, I was a technologist that spent six years in the trenches building an actual business in the meeting and event space. I have a thorough understanding of the pains of all our clients. I also understand what it means to own and grow a business and how valuable technology can be to achieve those goals. As a technologist, I can translate those pains and develop technology to solve them.

From an organizational perspective, how do you employ innovation on a day-to-day basis to keep the company on the leading edge?

We continue to encourage that through creating a culture of innovation. Celebrate new ideas and encourage people to take some risks. We have something called an innovation box where if you come up with an idea, we are going to celebrate it. Based on how much it impacts the company, you can get a monetary award. We also have brain storming sessions twice a month where we bring everyone together just to talk about an idea.

Is there a management style you use to spur innovation?

I definitely think there is. A lot has to do with how you make people feel when they interact with you. Are you open to a discussion? How available do you make yourself to those that don’t report directly to you? How do you react when someone gives you a suggestion to improve something? Even if you don’t like it, you don’t want to say, ‘I don’t like your idea’ especially in front of other people, or they will never bring you their next idea. You want to at least think about and consider the ideas that are brought to you. You may want to give them direction and (say), ‘Ok, well think about it a little bit differently, have you thought about xyz and come back to me.’

One of our strategies to foster innovation between people was to create a small contest. Everyone was assigned to do an innovative project that could benefit the company. The team that scored the highest got a spa day. It encouraged people to work together to create something new for the company.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how do you apply that to how you run the company?

The greatest lesson I’ve probably learned is from a mentor who taught me that everything in life, but especially in business, revolves around your relationships with other people. Whether it’s managing people, building new sales, working with clients, or dealing with investors; it is crucial to take the time to understand the person as an individual, what is important to them and how do they get value from the relationship with you. I learned that focusing on the other person and adjusting my style for them is what will make me successful, instead of assuming that everyone else should adjust to me.

I have had the privilege over the last seven years to work with many different kinds of people; the hard working banquet staff at a hotel to a hotel general manager; CEOs of large corporations to owner-operated small businesses, strategic partners and investors. I have learned something different from all of them.

How do you think your organization makes an impact on the community?

We do a number of different things. As an entrepreneur you’ve got a limited amount of time, and the things I do, I want to be impactful. We have a philanthropy program in the company where we match donations. We also offer paid days off to volunteer. But personally, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and children’s education. I sit on the board of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center – a great organization that fosters and support entrepreneurs in Chicago. I am also very involved with projects that involve innovating the way our children learn. It is also very exciting for me that Eved as a technology platform is impacting small businesses all over the world to help them grow their companies, add more jobs, cut costs and find new revenue streams.

What are your plans in terms of growth?

Eved is soley focused on technology. The event service company that we started as seven years ago is now called Access Chicago and a client of the Eved Platform. We need to stay very close to our clients and understand how we can continue to bring value to them. It is hard to transform the way you do business so we want to make the experience as easy as we can.

As a global event marketplace, we see tremendous growth opportunity. Event suppliers include tours, gift items, printing, signage, restaurants, special event locations, team building, concerts, and so much more. There are businesses that don’t even realize yet that they can sell into the event market. They just need a cost effective way to do it. Then you think about the fact that events happen all over the world.  There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars that we want to streamline and aggregate on Eved.

How to reach: Eved LLC, www.eved.com

Published in Akron/Canton

When he found out that two of his company’s facilities were flooded with eight feet of water, Chuck Hammond may have panicked for a minute. But the next minute, he was already in crisis mode, making plans to get operations of the company, Raining Rose Inc. back up and running for customers as soon as possible.

As president and CEO of Raining Rose — a manufacturer of natural-based body care products, such as lip balms, lotions and soaps — Hammond continually demonstrates his strong commitment to the company’s vision. When he purchased the company in 2003, he cashed in his life insurance and 401(k), sold his residence and secured a loan to finance its growth. Since then, Raining Rose has come a long way, growing from 13 employees to more than 100 and achieving more than 45 percent revenue growth in 2010.

Thanks to Hammond’s dynamic and inspiring leadership, Raining Rose was able to resume shipping operations within just two weeks of some of the area’s worst flooding in history. That’s because in good times or hard times, Hammond leads his team to go the extra mile to make sure customer needs are being met so their businesses can be successful.

Compiling what little was salvaged from the buildings after the flood, Hammond set up a temporary office with a small staff and some new equipment. He leased temporary production space from his vehicle until he could locate other space. At one point, Raining Rose was operating out of seven different facilities to manage operations and ship products for customers on time.

Ultimately, Hammond succeeded in not losing a single Raining Rose employee or customer due to the disaster. In November 2008, the company’s employees moved back into the company’s rebuilt, 18,200-square-foot facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. By ensuring Raining Rose continued to execute the quality his customers had come to expect, Hammond helped the company to not just stay afloat but to also achieve significant growth in all three years following the flood.

How to reach: Raining Rose Inc., (319) 362-8101 or www.rainingrose.com

Published in St. Louis
Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:01

Mover and shaker

Matt Connell has been nurturing his entrepreneurial spirit ever since he cut lawns at 8 years old. That character and drive blossomed into a position as business development director for a major relocation company ? and subsequently as founder of Total Military Management Inc.

Connell recognized that far too many movers underutilized the authority granted to them by the Department of Defense and believed he could help develop more revenue for the companies in addition to improving services to armed forces personnel. TMM today is a leading business process outsourcing company offering complete management of U.S. military household relocations, both domestic and international.

All TMM employees have the goal of total customer satisfaction. This attitude begins with Connell, company president, and resonates with every employees. This commitment to excellence has helped bring about extensive company growth of more than 55 percent a year.

The company does not compete with the relocation companies it serves. Connell feels TMM should not have its own booking authority so as to provide separation and distinction among the services it offers to customers. TMM serves as a business partner and process outsource rather than a business partner on one hand and competitor on the other.

The company supports Boys and Girls Clubs and the Ronald McDonald House as part of its charitable giving and also supports an elementary school in Jacksonville with Christmas gifts for underprivileged children each year.

An employee retention program called “Go, Get, Give” was started five years ago to reward employees for their work in meeting goals and in giving to the less fortunate. Once the goal is met, the employee chooses a place to go and then something to get. Finally, they choose a charity to which they would like to give. The program is one effort that helps keep the retention rate at 90 percent or more.

How to reach: Total Military Management Inc., (904) 739-9940 or www.totalmm.com

Published in Florida