Monday, August 29, 2011

Birds of a Feather – Are you defined by who you “hang with?”

As life progresses, I seem to come more and more back to the lessons taught to me by my parents. Growing up in New York City, my parents were understandably concerned about whom we chose as friends – who we chose to “hang with.” My mother would always say “birds of a feather flock together” – smart people associate with smart people, honest people tend to be around other honest people, achievers group with achievers, etc.

Brands are like coffee beans. Several years ago, I read a book about branding by Scott Bedbury who was one of the primary architects of the Starbucks brand. He said, “Brands are like coffee beans, highly sensitive sponges that absorb whatever odor is around them. And they don’t discriminate between the good, the bad, and the ugly.” You are the sum total of all of the best experiences and the worst experiences of your customers with you, your employees and contractors, your partners, your suppliers.

Recently, I questioned why a colleague referred to a client a firm known for trying to be all things to all people, therefore delivering lower quality services. The colleague replied, “because they provide us with referrals.” If you have no standards of excellence for your referrals, what does that say about the quality of your firm? And if a company with a spotty reputation refers your organization, what can someone infer about you and your organization?

Some folks may think that this is too strong a stance. There are numerous people out in the market that did not make the cut as a partner or associate of our firm. We have built our firm’s reputation over the last 30 years by recruiting and retaining only the best talent that is focused on client service, maintaining a high degree of integrity and professionalism, and seeking to associate with those of like mind. We only refer to our clients and friends those that demonstrate similar qualities.

Is this old-fashioned. In this era of social networking – Facebook friending and LinkedIn connections – there seems to be less concern for standards. People connect or friend with anyone and everyone who asks. One of my sons says that people no longer make judgments about you based on your associations – that it’s an old-fashioned notion.

Is that true? Does my mother’s “birds of a feather” caution still hold? Or, has it gone the way of the rolodex?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Networking: It's all about building relationships

By David P. Mead

There have been many articles written about networking - especially during this economic downturn. In recent weeks, I've read that you should join an executive golf networking group, connect with anyone who asks on LinkedIn, you shouldn't spend time with the same people, etc.

Brad Feld recently wrote about the disturbing trend to transactional encounters rather than relationships. I am not sure if the trend to transactional reflects a need for immediate gratification, is a sign of desperation, or if people just didn't listen to lessons their mother taught them.

The truth is, there is no easy path to developing a meaningful network. It's not about collecting business cards or golfing partners or meeting as many people as you can. It's about building relationships. In the current social networking world, some people seem intent to "friend" everyone and feel that the moment they meet you, they are "entitled" to tap into your network.

The following are some observations I've made over the years about building relationships:

1. Be a giver not a taker
Make deposits before withdrawals. Nothing turns people off faster than someone who gives you a download of their needs with little or no regards for yours. Take the time to understand the other person's needs. Seek to help them first.

Help people. One very successful investment banker has made it a point to know all of the leading surgeons and researchers in the medical field so that he could help the families of colleagues in his network. Another person helps find jobs and internships for children of colleagues and friends.

2. Go deep
Get involved with organizations and make a difference. People will make decisions about you based on how you engage with not for profit and community organizations. If you get involved and make a difference, people will take notice. If you merely distribute cards and look for introductions, they will notice that as well. We have made it a point to participate in organizations where we can get things accomplished and use our skills to advance the organization's vision and mission. Our consulting firm is all about execution and getting results for clients - people do notice that we do the same thing within the community. Want people to see you as dependable, creative, a leader? Superficial "fly-by" participation will not do it.

3. Deliver on your promises
If you say you'll do something for someone, make sure you follow-through. People want to build relationships with people who are dependable.

4. Do it for the right reasons
Some people call it creating good karma, others say it's doing the right thing. The key is that if you go out of your way to help others -it will come back. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but it will come back.

5. Say thank you
Your mother taught you always to say thank you when someone helps you. People want to know that were helpful and that you appreciate their efforts.

6. Stay visible
Many folks in transition are visible in the community only as long as it takes to find the next job. It is likely you will need to network again in your lifetime. Create a positive lasting impression. Otherwise, why would someone ever want to help you again?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Colorado success stories: Albeo Technologies

Haitz's law, clean tech, niche focus contribute to Albeo's growth
By David P. Mead

Editor's note: Albeo Technologies was recognized as a 2010 Colorado Company to Watch and Jeff Bisberg, CEO, has been recognized as a 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year regional finalist.

Most of us familiar with the computer industry know Moore's law which postulated that the number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years. But how many of us have ever heard of Haitz's law? Haitz's law, which states that the performance of an LED doubles every two years, may explain not only the exponential growth of the LED lighting industry, but also the future growth of Boulder-based Albeo Technologies.

Albeo Technologies designs, manufactures, and sells energy efficient LED lighting solutions for industrial and commercial buildings, including warehousing, data centers, etc. Albeo Technologies has enjoyed growth of over 100 percent compounded annual growth over the last three years. Between 2009 to 2010 the company grew by 3.5 times. When I met recently with Jeff Bisberg, he was enthusiastic about the growth prospects for Albeo.

What are some of the benefits of Albeo's LED lighting?

LED lighting saves energy, is cost effective and has significant environmental benefits. Energy and cost savings can be as much as 57% with the Albeo C-Series which represents significant savings over the total lifetime of the fixture and contributes greatly to a short payback period. Third-party independently tested, Albeo lighting can last up to 100,000 hours, reducing the need for costly maintenance and replacement bulbs. Environmental benefits of Albeo LED lighting include reduced carbon emissions and no mercury.

How is Albeo's market approach different?

There are several differences. First, Albeo is a pure LED lighting company. We specialize in LED lighting technology. We do not offer LED lighting only as an alternative to a core line of fluorescent lighting; Second, most LED lighting companies are going after the home market, while we have an industrial and commercial focus; Third, Albeo has designed a flexible system so that it is very easy for us to customize. We can deliver the "exact solution" to our clients. We focus on meeting the specific tradeoff of energy, light, and cost that the client needs.

Our initial strategy was to focus on small niche markets (such as kitchen under-cabinet lighting and case lighting for jewelry stores) which had little significant competition, and where we had access to early adopters. One pivotal strategic move was to shift to larger high bay fixtures in big spaces - commercial and industrial applications. These folks really disliked florescent lighting and were actively interested in finding an alternative.

Did the current recession have an impact on your growth?

Following the 2008 construction slowdown, many of our prospective customers grew risk averse. Albeo grew at a slightly slower rate. What saved us was the diversity of our channels. Instead of initially choosing one channel, Albeo's strategy had been to explore several channels. During the construction downturn, we focused on the direct channel rather than the A& D spec channel which carried us through 2010.

You've had some very big customer wins over the last year.

LED lighting is getting closer to a tipping point which is providing access to larger jobs. We just completed a very large installation at a Caterpillar manufacturing facility in Indiana and we were awarded the contract for lighting for the 8th largest data center in the world in North Carolina.

You attribute much of Albeo's success to your team and the culture.

We have a team that is familiar with the needs of working with large customers- selling, delivering, and servicing "referenceable and leverageable" large enterprise customers. We also have a bias for action. This means quick decision-making, a willingness to get things done quickly, to get customer exactly what they need so that we can take advantage of the window of opportunity.

What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?

We have benefitted from the green momentum which has fostered the drive for sustainability and profitability in large companies. There are two areas critical to our continued success: The first is further channel development. Albeo needs to broaden the recognition as both a brand and as a solution provider. We will continue to showcase our large accounts. We have an accelerated use of PR so that we get higher Google ratings in searches; the second is to continue product technology development. If we were to use a mobile phone analogy, the LED industry is in the large "brick phone" stage. We're about to enter the smartphone phase. We just closed our first order for a wireless Zigbee enabled intelligent lighting fixture, with motion sensors, which monitors energy consumption, and provides real time information for the facility manager. How this intelligent fixture will evolve in the future is still to be determined.