How to Succeed in 2007

We asked 25 of the brightest minds in business how they do what they do - and how you can cash in on their advice in the year ahead.

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Succeed With Simplicity


Sergey Brin, Google co-founder: "We don't want to have 20 different products that work in 20 different ways."
Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder: "(I)f you're actually turning people down...take the time to do it yourself."
Andre Agassi, Agassi Graf Development co-founder: "You have to treat (your career) as a marathon."
Rachael Ray, celebrity chef: "(Y)ou can't be all things to all people."
Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman: "Think of investments in your company as a metaphor for building a 100-story tower."

Brin: Simplicity is an important trend we are focused on. Technology has this way of becoming overly complex, but simplicity was one of the reasons that people gravitated to Google initially. This complexity is an issue that has to be solved for online technologies, for devices, for computers, and it's very difficult. Success will come from simplicity. Look at Apple, the success they have had, and what they are doing.

Schmidt: Silicon Valley companies have a tendency to develop these systems that rely on complexity. But it produces things like the personal computer running Windows. Google from the beginning focused on the simple search box, the simple search page.

Brin: We are focused on features, not products. We eliminated future products that would have made the complexity problem worse. We don't want to have 20 different products that work in 20 different ways. I was getting lost at our site keeping track of everything. I would rather have a smaller set of products that have a shared set of features.

Schmidt: We have the tiger by the tail in that we have this huge phenomenon of personalization. Now we need to make it simpler for people. We are trying to shape the innovation going forward from here and get things more integrated, make Google more integrated. This is a big change in the way we run the company. In the past the philosophy has been "get this done, get it built, and get it out." But continuing that, we would end up with hundreds of products named X-Google, and people can only remember five products.

Dare to Be a Social Entrepreneur


The rules of engagement around building a brand have changed significantly over the past 10 to 15 years. Where companies at one time could spread their message through traditional marketing, consumers now seek an enduring emotional connection with the companies they patronize. The foundation of that connection is the most important characteristic of building a world-class brand: trust. Trust with your people and trust with your customers.

In the early years, we tried everything we could to exceed the expectations of our customers. But we knew that to achieve that goal we had to first exceed the expectations of our people. That was never more evident than in 1990, while we were still a private company that had yet to turn a profit. That was when we provided comprehensive health care to all of our employees, including part-timers. We also passionately believed that our people should share in Starbucks's success through ownership in the form of stock options - what we call "bean stock." It's hard to imagine advocating such expenses while we were building the business. This was not an expense but rather an investment.

Growth can cover up a lot of mistakes, and it has an intoxicating quality that sometimes makes it hard to see the need to continue to make investments ahead of the growth curve. Think of investments in your company as a metaphor for building a 100-story tower: You need to first lay a solid foundation to support future growth.


If you look at companies that have successfully developed a business that has elements of social responsibility, you see that each one had good business reasons for doing it. Look at Starbucks. What is the business reason for the way it treats employees? If they stay longer or are more loyal and work harder at being a better representative of the company, it's good for business. An excellent personnel policy leads to more customer loyalty and therefore, one would probably surmise, higher sales. Employee loyalty and community support can make it easier to get approval for things like putting in a new store or a new building. Why does Target seem to get less resistance than Wal-Mart when it enters a community? We know that Target gives a lot of money to schools and gives a lot back to the community. Is that why people support it?

Consistency is also critical. Our customers know that we have taken a certain stand on issues - be it a cleaner environment, a woman's right to choose, gay and lesbian rights, human rights, or civil liberties. We have been consistent for 21 years now in our funding of various causes, so our customers have come to respect Working Assets and expect us to be taking these positions and funding these organizations.

People ask us, "What's more important, your commitment to social change or your bottom line?" I always say it's 100 percent for both. We need to offer customers the best service and a better product than they can get from the competition. I would argue that you won't be successful if you start something that you call a social enterprise just because you think it's a good way to make money. That might work in the short term, but I don't think it's going to have staying power.

Think Big


Today the world has about 1 billion people using PCs and connected to the Internet. We've made great progress, but we have almost 6 billion people left who have yet to be connected. As our world becomes more connected, the price of being left behind will only grow. Approximately two of every three people in the United States have direct access to a computer. Some countries, like South Korea, are well ahead of the United States in connecting their citizens and in the use of fiber-optic connections that are dramatically faster. Rapidly emerging countries like China, India, and Brazil are also adding Internet users at incredible rates.

The lesson for entrepreneurs here is that the opportunities for people in all of these countries - driven by improved access to technology - are already transforming their economies. While technology is helping to build a wealthier world (and also a better world in which more people can get more of their needs met), we must be mindful of the other 6 billion people whom we have yet to connect. Consider this the digital opportunity of a lifetime: connecting the next billion users and beyond. Businesses and individuals have an essential role to play in expanding digital access. It isn't a burden or a social obligation that must be met, but rather a two-dimensional opportunity: first, to improve lives by making technology more accessible to more people; and, second, to expand our markets by increasing digital access throughout the world. Everybody can play a part.

Keep Social Networks Social


The key is to be true to your community's norms and values. You can't just force yourself on people and try to sell them something they don't want - that's good advice for marketers generally, but particularly on community-driven sites like MySpace. You have to find ways to add value to your members' lives while being consistent with your brand's identity.

Compel Investors to Go Green


We have an energy crisis, a climate crisis, and a terrorism crisis - and all of them are tied to oil. Business needs to do something and do it now. We have to find solutions and alternatives to fossil fuels, and only those that are economically driven will achieve sufficient scale.

That means there has to be an economic incentive to attract investment, and the way to do that is simple: Make it interesting to Wall Street. New businesses happen when Wall Street gets excited about a new technology or market. The oil industry spends hundreds of billions on R&D every year. To find a replacement, the solution is pretty simple: Investors have to put up the same level of capital.

If investors can generate returns by putting money in companies focused on alternative energies, that will mean funding for newer and newer technologies. Leaning on Wall Street requires less government money and results in more new technology.

That's not to say government doesn't have a role to play. Both the president and Congress need to send a strong message to investors that they're committed to solving these crises. That might mean mandating that a certain percentage of automobiles be flex-fuel cars - capable of running on gasoline or biofuels - by a certain year, or that 10 percent of gas pumps dispense biofuels. They need to design subsidies that can respond to changing energy markets.

Investors need to set a path that leads to revolutionary vision but has short-term steps to renovate, innovate, and make money for scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Strive for Moral Authority


Most people define greatness through wealth and popularity and position in the corner office. But what I call everyday greatness comes from character and contribution. Sometimes people who possess the wealth and prestige also have everyday greatness, but not that often in our celebrity-obsessed culture, because they are primarily focused on what's in it for me. I'm in favor of achievements - degrees and wealth and that sort of thing. Still, those achievements convey formal authority but not always moral authority. The only way to acquire moral authority is through your character and contribution, to live in such a way as to merit the confidence and the trust of other people. Moral authority is especially important to business. This is because in order to reduce costs, increase production, and nurture a culture of innovation - all of which are important criteria in today's global economy - you've got to have high trust among your workers and partners. Why? Because everyone involved needs to sacrifice. If you don't have high trust, none of those things will happen. You can't fake high trust.

Build a Blog That Builds Your Business


Blogging has become a critical piece of my business. I am an early-stage investor in Internet-delivered services and the co-founder of a venture firm. At first I really didn't know what to write about. So I wrote about things I was passionate about: work, family, music, politics, New York City. I still post about all of those things, but today my blog, called A VC, is mostly about my work and music. I started writing at least one post every day and have done that ever since. When I go on vacation, I write a bunch of posts in advance and then autopost them on a regular schedule. I've found that having something new on the blog every day is the single most important thing to building an audience.

I also like to use a sensational headline. Many people read blogs in aggregators, which generally show only the headline. So you have to give people a reason to click through. Blogs need to be real and personal. Reading it should be like hanging out with you. I play music for my readers. I show them videos I like. I tell them what I did over the weekend. And I tell them what is happening in the technology, Internet, and VC markets.

And it works. About 50,000 people come to my blog every month. The site brings in about $30,000 a year now in ad revenue, and I donate it all to charity. Most important, I'm getting to know entrepreneurs of all kinds - in India, Australia, England, China, and Silicon Valley. They read my blog, correct me when I'm wrong, pound the table when they agree with me. I get to know them, and they get to know me. When it comes time for them to raise money, they know who to ask. And for me, the blog acts as an amplifier and a filter. I see many more opportunities, but they are also way more relevant. It makes me a better investor.

Learn How to Say No (Even if You're Known as "Dr. Yes")


I turn people down with extreme difficulty sometimes, because the people I'm saying no to are people I don't want to discourage. And it should be difficult. Saying no shouldn't be an easy thing to do, and you have to be good at it. I often used to dodge doing it myself, and hide behind other people and delegate it, but if you're the boss, that isn't the right thing to do.

I remember when I was a 15-year-old asking Vanessa Redgrave or James Baldwin for an interview, and the fact that they took the time to respond meant an enormous amount to me. It inspired me. So it's extremely important to respond to people, and to give them encouragement if you're a leader. And if you're actually turning people down, if you must say no, whether it's for a job or a promotion or an idea they're proposing to you, take the time to do it yourself.

I met two big San Francisco entrepreneurs recently, and they said they get e-mail like this too, but they just dump it all in the dustbin. They don't try to answer at all. I asked them why, and they said, "The time we spend responding could be used to create something of value for our business." That may well be pragmatically right, but I still think it's morally wrong, and I suspect that anything that is morally wrong is ultimately bad for business.

Turn Your Passion Into an Empire


You have to be open-minded when those early opportunities present themselves. Take advantage of them, whether they're going to make you a lot of money or not. I did 30 Minute Meals for five years on local television, and I earned nothing the first two years. Then I earned $50 a segment. I spent more than that on gas and groceries, but I really enjoyed making the show and I loved going to a viewer's house each week. I knew I enjoyed it, so I stuck with it even though it cost me.

I've also learned that you can't be all things to all people. Whatever it is that you're successful at, that has to be the No. 1 goal. In my case, it's accessibility. So all of my products have to be usable, accessible, affordable. The olive oils we're developing with Colavita will be priced to be competitive with every other affordable olive oil. We chose to be in grocery stores, not fancy food stores, because that's where most of my audience shops. Our pots and pans have to be heavy-bottomed and sturdy but also affordable. Decide what it is that you are and then stay true to that thing. My brand is based very much on how I live my day-to-day life.


I knew I wanted to build robots at an early age. I watched Star Wars when I was 11 years old. And pretty soon after that, I was hacking on one of the first PCs and seeing those two going together. So I just knew I'd be doing robots. People built robots in labs when I was in school, and I didn't see that as going far enough. When Ph.D. students got to the end of their programs, all the robot projects they'd put their hearts and souls into would stop. That's no way to build an industry. To do that, you have to create things that really touch people's lives. You need to learn how people react to robots, take their input, and invest profits back into the technology.

Venture capitalists like to invest in things that have succeeded before, but when we started iRobot, there weren't any successes in this industry. We were turned down by every major VC across the country, but we just kept knocking on people's doors until we found the visionary types who understood our passion and agreed there was a market in the making. You want to follow your vision, but the route to get to it will change along the way as you learn more and respond to customers, get more data. To have robots touch people's lives, to have robots make a difference in the world, well, that's a vision. We went one route, but we constantly evaluate where we are and where we want to get. We've sold 2 million Roombas, which is great, but that's only 1 to 2 percent of U.S. households. It's been 16 years already, and we're just getting started.

Don't Be a Bridge Burner


In my negotiations with business partners, I always maintain good relations whether the deal is successful or turns sour. You never know who you will be dealing with next or even who you may report to next. Philippe Dauman, who is now CEO of Viacom and to whom I report, once was a board member with me on a now defunct company. We had a terrific relationship, but who knew that several years later he would be my boss.

Turn Gripe Sessions Into Brainstorms


The first thing I did when we bought Warner Music was to fly to every major location and hold town hall meetings. I introduced myself, told them why we bought the company and what our vision was. I followed that up with regular town halls.

I also have what we call employee roundtables, where every other month I'm meeting with 15 or 20 junior-level employees, and we hold completely confidential two-hour sessions. I've held them in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, London, other European cities, and Hong Kong. I usually start them off with a 15-minute soliloquy on where I think the company is headed and what I want to accomplish from the meeting. Once the discussion starts, it's very free-form. Everything that happens in that conference room remains confidential within the group. So if people have criticisms that involve a more senior person in the company, nobody gets threatened, which is both informative to me and also builds a feeling of trust between the employees and their senior leadership.

It's a little like going to an AA meeting. You make a pledge and ask them to honor their commitment. As it turns out, because you give people that freedom, it doesn't turn into a gripe session. Instead they give us ideas about how to make the company better. There are waiting lists now for these roundtables.

Let the Users Run the Show


Letting users control your site can be terrifying at first. From day one we were asking ourselves, "What is going to be on the front page today?" You have no idea what the system will produce. But stepping back and giving consumers control is what brought more and more people to the site. They have a sense of ownership and discovery at the same time. If you give users the tools to spread and share their interests with others, they will use them to promote what is important to them.

We have 17 employees, and we have 4,500 submitted stories a day. We could hire more staff, but that's not what the site is about. It's about allowing users to define the site and police the site themselves.

Put Yourself at the Center of the Action


The rules for marketing a conference like our Web 2.0 event are pretty much the same as those for marketing anything else. Here are the ones we follow.

1. Be first. This is one of the immutable laws of marketing. Who was the first person to fly across the Atlantic? Lindbergh. Who was the second? No idea.

2. If you can't be first, create a new category so you can be first. Who was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic? Amelia Earhart. New category. We didn't have the first Web conference out there, but when we applied "Web 2.0" to the category, we created something new.

3. Position yourself at the leading edge of a new wave. The way to make sure you recognize the next big wave is by watching what I call the alpha geeks. You find people who are cool, by whatever metric you want to apply. It would be the same thing if you were marketing sneakers. And then you find out what the cool people are doing and you spread the word about it. This isn't to say there aren't audiences for whom cool might not be the right measurement, but it works for us.

4. Tell a big story. We don't market products narrowly. We market big stories about the industry, things that matter to a lot of people. In 1992 we came out with The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. Instead of marketing the book, we marketed the Internet using the book, and said the Internet is coming and by the way here's a book where you can learn about it. In planning Web 2.0 in 2003, we came up with a goal to reignite enthusiasm in the computer industry. We said, here's something that distinguishes the companies that survived the dotcom bust, here is something that is bubbling up again, so we gave it a name - Web 2.0 - and started telling a story about what was new and important in technology. Sometimes giving it a name helps people to see it.

5. Make it an A-list party. Conferences are really like parties, and an A-list party is one where A-list people are in attendance. You figure out who are the really important people to invite and get them to show up as speakers or as guests. Then everybody wants to be there. If you don't know who the important people are, you shouldn't be doing a conference.

6. Care about the attendees. There are a lot of lousy conferences that pander to sponsors. They end up creating an opportunity for boring speakers who are paid shills for their companies. We still get a few of those, but we really try to police it. Think about who the audience is and what works for them, and deliver high-quality content.

Stay True to Your Values


I'm what you call a "lifer" at Xerox; I've been with the company for 30 years. I joined the company because it offered me a chance to compete in a meritocracy as a salesperson where performance is fact-based - you're either selling or you're not. I stayed because I became enthralled by a culture that broadly defined "citizenship" to include how you treat your people, your customers, your suppliers, and the communities where we work and live. It wasn't talk. It was action, and still is. More than 40 years ago, our founder, Joe Wilson, spelled out a set of core values that cover how we engage with employees and customers, how we deliver value, and how we behave. Every decision I make is aligned with those values.

Seek Big Rewards in Small Ideas


Business today, as it is understood and defined in books, is something you do to maximize your profit. But that is only part of the story, and it's a part that makes human beings look like moneymaking machines, which is not a very noble description of a human being. A human being is much bigger that that. A human being can do many other things, but economics doesn't leave any room for expressing them. There are other kinds of business we can create that are about doing good for people.

Business is about problem-solving, but it does not always have to be about maximizing profit. When I went into business, my interest was to figure out how to solve problems I see in front of me. That's why I looked at the poverty issue. I got involved in lots of things to address it, and one of them was money lending with loans and credits and savings accounts, and in the process I created Grameen Bank. So you can also have social objectives. Ask yourself these questions: Who are you? What kind of world do you want?

Most of the problems we have and talk about today sound very complicated, but they aren't. They're simple. And complications actually hide solutions. So when I'm faced with a problem that looks complicated, I try to bring it back to its simplest state. Like poverty. Poverty is not complicated. It's deprivation, a denial of resources. Credit is not available to you, so you cannot move forward. Simple. All it takes is one little step: My first loan was one for $27 that I gave to 42 people. But at Grameen it's not that we lend money to people in small or big amounts; it's that we loan in an appropriate amount to their needs. The size is small because the need is small. I could complicate things: I could lend a person $1 million, but if that someone can only handle $20, that would be stupid. But if she can handle $20, it makes sense, and that's still big money for her. So I say, when you're trying to solve a problem, always bring it back to the simplest formulation.

Stage a Great Second Act


For me, the past 20 years have been practice for tomorrow. Someone who's successful in any area has figured out at least two things: how to get the most out of themselves, and that attention to detail matters. Having a career that lasted that long in my sport explains the sort of personality that you have to have. You have to treat it as a marathon. You have to treat it as building blocks. My wife, Steffi, and I just launched a real estate development company, and we're building an all-seasons resort outside Boise, Idaho. And we've been involved in everything from room layouts to the art on the walls to the furniture fabrics. It's down to every detail.

You have to understand who you are and figure out a way to communicate it. It might be in a different industry, but it's about what pumps the blood through your veins, what makes you excited, what pushes your buttons. And then discovering the best way to communicate that, no matter how big or small; it's what you stand for, what you believe in, and what reflects who you are.

Give Your Startup a Fighting Chance


1. Test first. Launch your product or service before you have funding. See how people respond to it before you have a PowerPoint and business plan - have something people can use, and go from there.

2. Seek outside feedback. As you start building the product, don't assume that you know all the answers. Listen to the community and adapt. We had a lot of our own ideas about how the service would evolve. Coming from PayPal and eBay, we saw YouTube as a powerful way to add video to auctions, but we didn't see anyone using our product that way, so we didn't add features to support it.

3. Give partners what they want. Approach your business partners with concepts that they can get their heads around, and try to respond to their needs. An interesting example is what we've done with the music labels. With Warner and others, we saw an opportunity to protect the labels' rights and create a new market. Now we can do things like add music to people's travel videos. It allows users the freedom to create and to do it legally.


1. Hire smart. Setting the DNA of a company starts with the founders, and hiring is the No. 1 pitfall for young ventures. Don't compromise on quality, verify passion, stay focused on doing one thing really well. The motivation should be to build something of value for the long term.

2. Define the market problem. Rather than rush to form a venture, think hard about the problem you're solving. Break it down into easily understandable pieces so you can explain it first to yourself.

3. Simplify the solution. Set specific goals and milestones to get you to a stage of validation; that ensures that your efforts and energies will be well spent. At that point, be flexible and open to changes. It's better to have half a product with a brutal triage of features at launch than to have a half-assed product.

Turn Your Biggest Weakness Into Your Greatest Asset


Truly brilliant marketing happens when you take something most people think of as a weakness and reposition it so people think of it as a strength. In the 1990s, Apple Computer was selling an Intel board that ran in a Mac to make it PC-compatible. It didn't work. Steve Jobs took that weakness - incompatibility - and with the "Think Different" campaign turned it into a statement of style. And under the covers, Apple kept improving it. With Netflix, the big weakness is that it takes a day to get your movie. If we talked about that, that would be ineffective. So what we talk about is no late fees, no due dates, and being aggressive on price. You focus their attention on features that are compelling, like allowing people to keep movies as long as they want. Most people always try to fix the product, which is a good thing. But brilliant marketing is taking the product you have and figuring out the right positioning.

Let Them See You Sweat


About two months into my tenure as CEO of CNBC, I asked Jack Welch for some feedback on how I was doing. He said I was doing great in terms of outlining a strategy for the network and how we would succeed in a tough economic climate. But he said I needed to let my team "see me sweat." Having been a consultant at McKinsey for 10 years, I was highly analytical, very calm and collected. I was used to having a poker face and never letting anyone see me get rattled, no matter how tough the challenge. Jack's advice was to do the opposite. His point was that, particularly in times of rapid change, people need to visibly see the urgency and passion of their leader if they're going to fully engage. Being analytical and strategic is great, but to get a team motivated during tough times, you also have to show your passion - you have to break a sweat so they understand at an emotional level what's really at stake. It was a vital leadership lesson as I made the transition from consultant to general manager, and I'm using that learning now in trying to turn around the Liz Claiborne apparel business.

Make Your Brand Part of the Conversation


There are three things I think about the most when it comes to making it as a marketer these days. The first one is there's no amount of money I can pay to get my commercial in front of you, because you can powerfully edit what you spend time with. So my job as a marketer is no longer to interrupt, but to produce content that is so relevant, interesting, entertaining, and involving that my best consumers won't want to live without it. The second thing is understanding that instead of brochures and trade shows, marketing now really begins with the product. Great companies are investing a lot of time and attention into trying to make products that market themselves. The last piece is that user-generated content has made it possible for consumers to own your brand, and if they don't, you're not doing your job. The brands that are adopted, blogged about, and parodied the most are the ones that are going to win because they're involved in the evolution of pop culture. If you're scared to have your brand played with, you're going to be left behind.

Obsess About Solutions, Not Problems


There's a lot to the credo that success breeds success. It puts you on a high that makes more success like a magnet. I'm a positive thinker who does frequent reality checks. Negatives turn into positives, problems can be solved, things can turn around. The image of success is important, but even more important is the ability to focus on solutions instead of on problems. That way, you'll never be thinking like a loser, and you probably won't look like one either.

Avoid a Staff Mutiny (With Chocolate, if Necessary)


(As imagined by Greg Daniels, executive producer, and Paul Lieberstein, co-executive producer, of NBC's The Office) Every day someone stops me on the street or in a coffee shop or a magic shop, and they want to know how to motivate their staff! Fantastic, I tell them! Then I tell them there's this old saying, "You can take a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. It will only drink if it's thirsty." I think that while at one point that may have been true, in today's fast-paced business climate, that no longer holds water!! Of course you can make a horse drink. If it doesn't drink, whip it. The horse will understand that you mean business, and it'll start gulping down a ton of water. Now, luckily I don't have to whip my employees - they worship me - plus they drink plenty on their own. Ergo, love. Fantastic! The three keys to motivating your staff are love (positive reinforcement), fear (negative enforcement), and chocolate (chocolate reinforcement).

Nowadays I find chocolate and/or chocolate-based snacks to be great motivators. Everyone loves chocolate. If someone has a lot of work to do, put a piece of fudge in a glass container (so they can see it) and let them know that if they accomplish their tasks, they can eat the fudge. You'll definitely get a reaction!

What's it come down to? Attitude! I teach my workers a "yes, let's get it done!" way of thinking, whereas without me they would think, "OK, I'll do it, but I'd rather just watch TV and do it later." I'm behind that. I'm helping them make life better and better, with no limits! The future is theirs and mine! I believe so much in the future that I invest exclusively in "futures." In fact, you can't invest in "pasts," they don't offer that. I've checked.

There's a saying, "As goes paper, so goes the paper business." You've heard of supply and demand. Well, paper demands that I do my job or I am fired. That's been said to me. And that's a good thing: It's called a warning, and we should heed the warning signs of a downturn. Or an upturn. The point is, motivation is business, and that's fantastic. Business is the backbone of the economy, and those who say otherwise are incorrect or lying to your face. If it weren't for business, this country would probably have another depression, only this one wouldn't be so great.


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Additional reporting by: Carlye Adler, Michael V. Copeland, Paul Sloan and Joel Stein. Top of page

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