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Living under a hardline Communist government since 1959, Cuba’s would-be entrepreneurs have traditionally found it tougher to get business off the ground than in many other countries, but not impossible.
The country has long had a thriving small business scene, which has opened up much more in the past two decades as business education has become more readily available. The softening of both government policies and negative social attitudes restricting the accumulation of personal wealth has helped as well.
Right now, the Cuban government has 201 categories of small and medium-sized private businesses that citizens are allowed to engage in. Some examples of fields in which entrepreneurs have been able to thrive in Cuba include food service and restaurants, health and beauty aids, and the growing of organic produce. The country has also a had thriving film and tourism industries that need to be supported by private businesses.
Though government policy puts limitations on business activity and can be a source of frustration and stifled growth to Cuba’s entrepreneurs, perhaps equally frustrating is the longstanding embargo placed against the country by the United States. The initiation of the normalization process between the two countries in late 2014, plus the ceding of power (and recent death) of longtime militant socialist leader Fidel Castro, offers hope to entrepreneurs in this area. As of late 2016, one can now take a flight, get mail delivered or take a cruise ship to the country legally from the United States. The embargo remains in place, requiring Congressional approval to be lifted. It is, at present, very unclear as to if and when this is going to happen.
At the moment, life for Cuba’s entrepreneurs continues as it has recently. It’s much easier to communicate with potential clients outside of the country, as well as secure supplies for their businesses. Business owners in the country are also currently allowed to ship a wide variety of goods to the United States, so long as they are not on the list of items commonly prohibited by customs.
Internet access has been a stumbling block for businesses in Cuba, but that is starting to thaw along with other government policies toward a privatized economy. The government still controls all internet access and does not allow private connections inside homes or most businesses. To allow internet access they have created both public WiFi hotspots and a series of government-run internet cafes throughout the island. Computer ownership has been legal in private homes since 2008, and there has been mounting public pressure to increase broadband access to the island. The Cuban government has begun experimenting with broadband connections in private residences in the Old Havana area just this year. They have also made a commitment to open at least 30 more WiFi hotspots throughout the country.
The Cuban coffee industry has seen a particular shot in the arm from this increased ability to trade and communicate with the United States. Nespresso was quick to move in to distribute coffee from the country under their name, but since regulations require most of these imported products originate from small businesses, local farmers are seeing just as much benefit as the company is.
A great deal of uncertainty hangs over entrepreneurial activities in Cuba. It is still not clear what the incoming American government will do. Even if the incoming administration does not decide to forge ahead with lifting the embargo, increased trade opportunities will be counterbalanced by an increased presence of heavyweight American companies competing in the spaces that small Cuban businesses currently enjoy some protected rights to. Cuba’s small business entrepreneurs have made their businesses work in the face of much worse odds and have consistently displayed a superior work ethic. It’s therefore very reasonable to expect they are going to find a way to make their business work no matter what circumstances may come.
TED Talks are now one of the most popular forms of spreading leading edge information. A few years ago, only an elite minority of techies and business leaders had even heard of them. Now, TED Talks are the modern equivalent of PBS or BBC where you can absorb important information in an easily digestible 15-minute talk. However, not all speakers are equally persuasive. Now that these talks are so popular, with TEDx all over the country, there’s a lot of competition. If you’re planning to give a TED Talk of your own (or a similar type presentation), you need to know how to make it memorable. The following are the top 3 common traits of a great TED Talk.
1. A Compelling Topic
The first quality of a great TED Talk is a topic people want to hear about. Just as an article or ad requires an engaging headline, a talk needs a title and topic that reels the audience in. Start by identifying a problem or issue and promise a solution. The most compelling talks often start with the words “how”, as in “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” or “How to Make Stress Your Friend”, which are actual titles of two of the most popular TED Talks of all time. Topics that tend to do well with TED audiences include leadership secrets, ways to improve performance in all areas of life, health, time management, and life hacks to help busy professionals.
2. A Persuasive Manner
Aristotle identified three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Although the Greek philosopher was writing more than two thousand years ago, his ideas on rhetoric are still relevant today and apply to both writing and speaking. Ethos refers to ethics and requires the speaker to establish credibility. Even if the audience knows your impressive credentials, it always helps to make references to your experience and success in a certain field.
Pathos appeals to the emotions. Every good speaker, whether a politician, minister, or CEO needs this quality. Study of oratory styles of great speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy and observe how their words and oratory styles appeal to the audience’s emotions.
Logos, meanwhile, appeals to reason and logic. When you see a TED speaker pointing to a chart with statistics to drive home his or her points, you’re looking at logos in action. The best speakers seamlessly meld ethos, pathos, and logos together. They will, for example speak in an emotional tone of voice while proving a point logically and simultaneously, establishing their expertise.
3. Clear and Concise
TED Talks are relatively brief at less than 20 minutes. Many of the best talks are only around 10 minutes. You don’t have much time to capture your audience’s attention, introduce your topic, make your main points, and drive home your message. If you waste any time with digressions or irrelevant points, you risk diluting the talk’s effectiveness.
One of the selling points of TED Talks is their brevity, providing time-challenged viewers with a way to absorb valuable information in their spare time. However, it’s also a challenge for the speaker to condense complex information into a concise package. Keep in mind that you don’t have to provide an entire college course in your presentation. Your goal is to make one main point and introduce people to your way of thinking. If they want more details, send them your book or website.
Watch, Listen, and Learn
We’ve looked at three characteristics of the best TED Talks. However, it’s necessary to watch dozens, if not hundreds of talks to really understand what makes them succeed or miss the mark. Rather than watching to merely absorb the speakers message, watch and listen critically. It helps to watch less successful talks as well as great ones. Note as many details as possible about the speaker and what makes him or her great or not so great.
Mike Rowe has made a career for himself as a guy wearing a scruffy cap and work jeans who takes TV viewers along with him to some of America’s roughest and toughest jobs. He did this first as the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”, which spanned over 200 episodes between 2005-2012, and more recently as host of the similar CNN series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”
What’s less well known about him (and what stands in contrast to his public persona) is that he’s a highly educated college graduate with a degree in communications. He’s also a trained actor and formal professional singer who did a stint with the Baltimore Opera. In addition to his own shows, he’s also done quite a bit of professional narration work, for everything from “The Ultimate Fighter” to “How The Universe Works.”
The point being, he’s an intelligent and educated man with broad experience in public speaking and performance. Without this background knowledge about him (and under the assumption that he’s just a blue-collar guy who managed to land a TV career somehow), you might be surprised at how effective and eloquent his public speaking appearances are, such as his 2009 TED Talk.
In this post we’ll break down in more detail exactly what it is that makes Mike such an effective, popular and in-demand media presence on the issues of work and educational reform that he’s made the centerpiece of his career.
The Image Of Authenticity
Can anyone remember the last time anyone saw Mike Rowe in a suit? Has he ever even been in one?Almost without fail, whether he’s appearing as host of his own show, a guest on someone else’s, or even as a speaker in front of a room full of wealthy tech giants, Mike is always in his standard t-shirt or work shirt (maybe a flannel if he’s feeling fancy that day), plus jeans and nondescript baseball cap. Granted, he may just wear this stuff all of the time because it’s comfortable and his career allows him to get away with it. But this image has also become his brand, and it helps to feed his no-nonsense persona and a sense that he represents honesty and authenticity without any pretense.
The Clothes Make The Brand
The “everyday Joe” outfit automatically helps to engender a sense of immediate trust in the audience, that this is just a regular guy who has no reason to hornswoggle you, he’s just here to make people aware of something that is important to him. This actually flies in the face of conventional psychological wisdom, in which studies tend to indicate that better-dressed people inspire more automatic trust. Context is also critical, however; Mike Rowe has a public history of over a decade now as “the face of the working man”, and that background is perhaps amplified by his “brand image” of going around everywhere in workwear.
To be frank, it may also be that it sets the bar somewhat low. People don’t tend to associate eloquent public speech with a guy who looks like he’s in a Dickies commercial. So when he begins delivering a well-written talk with professional presentational polish, it may be catching the audience by surprise and capturing their attention through something of a novelty factor.
Of Course, There’s The Actual Speaking
Mike Rowe is far from just being all about image, however. His television career has taken him through some legitimately nasty, dirty and even dangerous experiences. If he was just out for quick Hollywood money, there have to be easier ways to make it!
He comes across as not only personally very invested and interested in the subject of American labor and the lives of regular people, but passionate about convincing others for the benefit of the country as a whole. In other words, what he says is 100% legitimate, and it doesn’t take any kind of an outfit for that to show through.
A business partnership can give you some pretty potent advantages. General partnerships aren’t required to pay business income tax, and they allow you to pool your resources more easily and inexpensively than forming a corporation.
Choosing the right partner is perhaps the single biggest contributor to the success or failure of the business, however. Your partner will be backing the business with their personal assets and having an equal say in operations. A limited partnership offers some legal protections in terms of debt liability, but it can’t protect a business from the negative consequences of a poor partnership fit.
So what exactly should you be looking for in the ideal business partner? These are some of the most important factors to consider.
1) Communication And Compromise
Ideally, you and your partner will be in total lockstep when it comes to your vision for the company’s business strategies, future and values. It isn’t 100% necessary, however; just look at how often Jobs and Woz or Gates and Allen butted heads. What is vital is that both parties can communicate and listen to each other, and have at least some willingness to compromise in the best interests of the company. Partners who are stubborn and combative are going to needlessly escalate every disagreement or dispute when it doesn’t go their way.
Running a new business pretty much consumes your life, even if it’s a very small business. If your business partner has their finger in a bunch of other pies, or has too many personal issues they’re trying to attend to while also working, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to devote adequate time to the company’s needs.
3) Contrasting And Complementing
The perfect partner will be strong where you are weak. This is where many people get hung up, as this requires taking a very honest and brutal inventory of yourself to determine what you’re simply not that good at (and you’ll also likely gravitate toward people who are similar to you). To cite a common Silicon Valley dynamic, the withdrawn and somewhat introverted tech whiz is probably going to benefit more from a partnership with a business-oriented extrovert who has natural “hype man” inclinations.
4) Consider The Full Range Of Assets
Ideally, you’ll partner up with someone who has plenty of cash on hand, no significant debt, and a willingness to invest in the company’s future. Other assets are just as important, however, especially if Daddy Warbucks isn’t available. One great quality to look for is someone with deep industry connections. Another is specialized knowledge and expertise that you don’t already have. For example, bookkeeping is a skill that new businesses often overlook until they’re suddenly forced to pay for it.
5) Willingness To Sign On The Dotted Line
If it isn’t on paper, it doesn’t exist. That’s the attitude you should always have toward your business, and that includes the terms of the partnership. An unwillingness to draw up and sign formal papers laying out duties and expectations can indicate a few different things about a partner — they might not really be committed to the business and a risk to pull out in the near future, they might have something dishonest planned, or they might not have enough trust and confidence in you for the arrangement to work.
6) The Escape Hatch
Even seemingly ideal partnerships can end up going south for one reason or another, sometimes for circumstances beyond anyone’s control. The problem with legal partnerships is that one person’s exit basically ends the existence of the company. To avoid this, set up a buyout agreement in advance, which stipulates the terms under which one partner can buy out another’s interest in the company if they end up leaving.
I have reviewed pitch decks from experienced entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs who are just starting out, or anywhere in between. I see a lot of reoccurring mistakes made by entrepreneurs, some could even cost you an investor. Read on to see what the most common mistakes are and how to avoid them.
What do you do?
When I’m looking through a pitch deck I want to know from the start what your good or service is, and who is your intended customer. Before you start going over your great market and industry data or the taglines of problems customers face, I want to know why that information is relevant. By the time you are a third of the way through your deck, or 5+ minutes into your pitch, your audience shouldn’t still be trying to decipher what you do.
Lack of visuals
One of the main reasons I like visuals is that they take up space. If there is empty space on a slide, too many entrepreneurs will take that space and fill it with an abundance of text. Another benefit of visuals is they make a message quick and easy to interpret. Simple is better, a picture is worth a 1,000, and any other slogan you can come up with; make it easy for your audience to comprehend your message.
Too much text is the most common mistake I see. As a reader, if I see a slide full of text all I’m going to do is skim the headlines. If the text is going to be skimmed over, why have it at all? The common push back I hear from entrepreneurs is they need all this text to fully describe their solution or all the text is necessary because investors should have every detail. Make sure you understand how your deck will be consumed and the amount of information needed for the stage of funding you are in.
If you are sending your deck via email to a potential lead, think of it as a movie trailer. The goals of a movie trailer are the same as the goals you should have for your start up pitch deck. A movie trailer gives the audience a general idea of the plot, who is starring in it, and leaves a bit of a cliffhanger, causing you to turn to your spouse and say “that looks really good; we should go see it.” You don’t need to explain every possible detail; the audience can connect the dots to some extent.
How are you different?
Simply put, if you just tell me your solution is an online video platform I will assume you’re a YouTube knockoff that doesn’t stand a chance. Competing against a dominant competitor is not something I would invest in without a major differentiating factor.
Often times the business model is the weakest slide in the decks that I see. To me this is one of the most important slides. You may have a great idea, but I want to see that you have a way of making it a great business. I want to know who you are charging, how much you are charging, and what the profit is.
“Revolutionary”, “game changing”, “first of it’s kind”, “the next Facebook”, all buzzwords or phrases that hold not meaning or value. Along those lines I would add in hockey stick shaped growth or financials, and stating social media as a marketing strategy. My other pet peeve is using the term viral videos as a marketing tool because we all know every video posted on YouTube goes “viral.”
What do you need?
Give your audience a call to action, state how much capital you need, and clearly state how to get ahold of you if I want to learn more.
After reading a pitch deck I love when I feel like I stumbled onto something that has real potential. Don’t make it too long; I’m okay with being left with questions and wanting to know more at the end of a pitch deck. If you have me interested and excited about your solution, I’ll want to set a meeting to find out more!